Taking shortcuts while operating equipment at recycling facilities could be a potentially fatal mistake, according to industry safety experts.

In 2011, 10 workers died in recycling plants, but lessons can be gleaned from these incidents, said David Biderman, general counsel and safety director of the National Solid Wastes Management Association.

Biderman, along with EST Solutions President Susan Eppes, will address industry safety during their presentation “Making Safety a Priority” at 9:15 a.m. March 29 at the Residential Recycling Conference in Dallas.

Both stressed that proper “lockout-tagout” (LOTO) procedures on machinery is necessary.

“In plain English, what it refers to is the idea that before you do any maintenance on anything, you make sure there is no possibility of the machine, the equipment or the truck starting up and moving by itself,” Biderman said.

“Let’s say it’s a baler or compactor that’s creating a bale of cardboard and there is a jam in that bale. We need to make sure that the employees are trained to lockout and tagout that baler before trying to clear the jam. There have been several tragic incidents over the past year where workers didn’t take that important step and paid for it with their lives.”

Eppes, who has two decades experience in the waste industry consulting companies on safe practices, said some workers ignore protocol and put themselves at risk. If someone falls into a baler, Eppes said the machine is going to do what it’s designed to do.

“You have to take the time to do it the right way,” she said.

Their presentation also will highlight the “substantial” number of citations at recycling operations this past year from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Biderman said. The federal agency regulates working conditions for all U.S. companies.

Although recycling fatalities rose slightly last year, Eppes and Biderman agree that safety awareness has improved across the industry.

Biderman said larger companies are “investing a lot of time and money into training” and now have full-time safety staffs.

Equipment manufacturers have been building machines that make the LOTO process easier, though some smaller companies and municipalities are still playing catch-up when it comes to safety.

For instance, Biderman said municipalities need to make sure their programs are up-to-date and that they’re communicating safety procedures with workers on a frequent basis.

“A disproportionate number of worker fatalities in the solid waste and recycling industries occur in small companies and local governments that aren’t members of our association,” Biderman said. “[The RRC] is a terrific opportunity to reach out to some of those organizations and provide them with information about how they can keep their workplace and their workers safe.”