Common Types of Illnesses Contracted in Waste and Recycling

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Rubbish bag in the streetIf you work in the waste and recycling industry you not only have to deal with physical dangers – such as moving vehicles - that can result in injury or death, but you are also at serious risk of contracting work-related infections, caused by coming into contact with harmful substances.

Inevitably, there are many harmful substances that can be encountered by workers in this sector. Examples include:

  • Rotting food
  • Human and animal waste – from items such as nappies or litter trays
  • Compost
  • Needles and used clinical waste

Workers in the industry also suffer from other types of ill-health as a result of their working conditions. Top of the list are musculoskeletal disorders and back pain, often as a result of incorrect manual handling techniques.

Other common work-related illnesses include:

  • Contact dermatitis – from coming into contact with irritants, such as leaking battery acid, or even as a result of constant hand-washing
  • Occupational lung diseases – from breathing in airborne materials and dust
  • Noise-induced hearing loss – especially from glass collection or in materials recovery facilities
  • Skin cancer – working outdoors can lead to overexposure to direct sunlight

Identifying Hazards

The recycling and waste management industries are a significant source of respiratory and breathing hazards. This is true of almost every stage of the waste and recycling process, from collection and sorting at the doorstep and the drop-off points of depots to processing centres where a range of potentially hazardous activities take place – for example, composting and recycling – and landfill areas where dangerous airborne particles may proliferate.

This airborne dust together with toxic fumes and decomposing materials can present a danger to those in the industry. Contrary to what many believe, it is not only chemical pollutants that pose a problem; organic substances such as wood, leaves and vegetation can also pose a hazard in the form of airborne micro-organisms called bio-aerosols.

Common complications of these occupational hazards include asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


According to the Health and Safety Executive, between 2010/ and 2019/20, there were around 5,000 workers annually in the British waste sector who suffered an illness they believed was caused by or made worse by their job.

Around 75% of these suffered from musculoskeletal disorders or stress, depression, or anxiety, while the remaining 25% suffer from conditions such as skin or respiratory illnesses.

In the seven years prior to 2019/20, around 4.1% of waste and recycling workers suffered from work-related ill-health that was caused or made worse by their job; this is a higher rate than across all other industries (3.3%).

Contact Thompsons Today

As with all industries, employers and owners in the waste and recycling sector are legally obliged to provide their employees with as safe a working environment as possible. If they do not and you become ill or your existing illness becomes worse, then you might be entitled to claim compensation.

Worried about making a claim? Give us a call on 0800 0891331 and talk it through.


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