In many European countries, the management of household waste has recently changed with an increased focus upon waste sorting resulting in lower collection waste frequency for some waste fractions. A consequence of this is the potential for increased growth of microorganisms in the waste before collection, which can lead to an increased exposure via inhalation for waste collection workers. Through a review of the literature, the PEROSH-group aimed to evaluate factors affecting waste collection workers’ exposure to bioaerosols and risks caused by the exposure to bioaerosols – and to illuminate potential measures to reduce the exposure.
The process of the project was divided into three parts:
- A workshop where participants presented their recent work concerning the working environment of waste collection workers; the workshop was open for invited OSH professionals, interest groups, workers’ unions, and employers’ associations in Denmark.
- A workshop for the group where the aim and organization of the review paper was described.
- Review of the literature and writing of the scientific paper.
Main results from the review:
- The following factors were associated with reduced exposure: high loading, ventilation in and cleaning of drivers’ cabs, waste in sealed sacks, increased collection frequency, and use of hand sanitizer.
- Incidences of irritation of the eye and skin, gastrointestinal problems, and symptoms of organic dust toxic syndrome have been reported.
- Correlations between bioaerosol exposure level and reduced lung function as either a short or a long-term effect have been reported.
- Exposure to fungi and endotoxin has in some studies been associated with an inflammatory response measured in exposed workers.
- A better understanding of the effect of specific microbial species on health outcomes is needed to proceed to a more reliable risk assessment.
- Changes in waste handling due to implementation of better waste recycling and a circular economy may have an impact on occupational exposures.
- Due to the effects of global warming and to the increasing recycling, exposure to microorganisms and endotoxin in this working environment is expected to increase.
- It is important to look ahead and plan future studies as well as to improve methods to prevent long and short-term health effects.
During the work with this project the researchers from the different PEROSH institutes have made a foundation for a network which we are looking forward to use in future projects.
You can find the review paper here.