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How to improve safety and reduce risk in waste & recycling industry

10 June 2020

The waste and recycling industry in 2020 continues to strive to meet the increasing demand for processing waste. Each year, it is estimated that the UK generates over 40 million tonnes of commercial and industrial waste. The UK waste & recycling industry is working towards meeting EU targets of recycling 50% of household waste and 60% of packaging waste by the end of this year.

This increase in the amount of waste has led to a greater requirement for automation in recycling methods, and this, coupled with time pressures means a greater exposure to risks associated with these processes.

Risks in the waste and recycling industry

The industry has a significantly high rate of workplace injury and work-related ill health. Every year, around 5% of employees are injured in non-fatal incidents, which is almost double the average across all sectors. Between 2011-2016, the fatal injury rate in the waste and recycling industry was 10 times greater than the all-industry rate. In the last 5 years, more than 50 people have been fatally injured in waste and recycling activities, making it one of the UK’s most dangerous industries to work in.

Machines utilised in this industry are particularly hazardous including waste trommels, shredders, compactors, bailers and sorters. This type of equipment benefits from a robust and reliable safety solution, such as trapped key interlocking.

For example, industrial waste shredders are designed to reduce the size of diverse waste materials such as wood and paper. The main and most obvious hazard is high speed rotating blades that shred the waste upon entry. It is vital that the shredder is isolated and safe before allowing personnel access for repair, maintenance or cleaning. It is equally important that the shredder cannot be restarted while operations are being carried out.

Trapped Key Interlock solutions in the recycling industry

Trapped key interlocking systems successfully address the challenges, risks and demands of the waste & recycling industry keeping personnel safe, as well as improving efficiency. In general, trapped key interlocking ensures that a process is followed and cannot be circumvented or shortcut. The transfer of a key ensures that wherever personnel find themselves, in either starting or shutting down operations, they can be assured that they are safe.

Using a Castell trapped key system would mean that in order to access the shredder for any reason, for example maintenance or cleaning tasks, it must be electrically isolated via a suitable keyswitch in which the key can only be removed once the shredder is turned off. Turning and removing the key isolates the machine so it cannot be turned back on until the key is re-inserted. The key is then taken to an access gate and used to allow access to the shredder via an AIE access lock. Upon unlocking the access gate, the operator can release a second key, or personnel key, for them to retain whilst in the dangerous area. The provision and use of a personnel key provides operators further peace of mind that whilst they are in the dangerous area, the machine cannot be restarted. When the operation is complete, the sequence is reversed and the machine can be re-started in the knowledge that it is safe to do so. 

On the same site a waste compactor may be used to compress waste, rendering it more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly for disposal. In this case, potential safety hazards/risks include moving and crushing injuries. 

Before allowing access to the operator, the waste compactor must first be electrically isolated via a keyswitch where the key can only be removed when this type of equipment is switched off. The removal of the key isolates the machine which can be turned back on only when the key is re-inserted and trapped. The key is then taken to an access gate (or X Key Exchange Box if there are multiple access points) and used to allow access to the compactor via an AIE access interlock. Inserting the isolation key will then allow the release a second key (personnel key) which is taken into the hazardous area preventing the starting of the compactor. With the completion of the operation, the sequence is reversed and the compactor can be safely re-started. 

A similar trapped key interlocking system implementation could be applied to other machinery typically used in the waste and recycling industry. Specifically, when operating a waste trommel, the safety hazard involves rotating parts and being trapped inside the machine. When using a waste baler, there is the risk of moving and crushing injuries. Finally, when handling a waste sorter, the safety hazard arises from the moving conveyors.

Benefits of trapped key interlocking in the waste & recycling sector

Here are five reasons why trapped key interlocks can improve safety in the waste and recycling sector:

1. They force the operator to follow sequence of events which ensures equipment can only be used safely.

2. Their simple and robust design makes them easy to install and retrofit to existing equipment.

3. They’re highly durable, have a long product life and require little maintenance. As a result, the machinery to which they are fitted suffers less downtime and so overall plant utilisation is increased.

4. They are compliant with relevant safety standards.

5. The provision and use of a personnel key gives operators peace of mind that whilst they are in the dangerous area, the machine cannot be restarted.


Factors such as the increasing demand of handling waste, the highly automated recycling processes and the time pressures, have rendered the waste and recycling sector a potentially dangerous and high-risk environment. Installing a Castell trapped key interlocking system/solution consisting of proven, robust products can address such harsh and aggressive conditions keeping personnel safe whilst allowing fast access to machinery. This way, both efficiency and safety are improved while risks are reduced.

About the author

John Williams is an Industrial Business Development Manager for Castell Safety International with 20 years’ experience. John is based in the London office and is an expert in industrial safety & TKI solutions, as well as providing guidance and support to customers with specific requirements.

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