Collection of domestic waste. Review of occupational health problems and their possible causes

Sci Total Environ. 1995 Aug 18;170(1-2):1-19. doi: 10.1016/0048-9697(95)04524-5.


During the last decade, a growing interest in recycling of domestic waste has emerged, and action plans to increase the recycling of domestic waste have been agreed by many governments. A common feature of these plans is the implementation of new systems and equipment for the collection of domestic waste which has been separated at source. However, only limited information exists on possible occupational health problems related to such new systems. Occupational accidents are very frequent among waste collectors. Based on current knowledge, it appears that the risk factors should be considered as an integrated entity, i.e. technical factors (poor accessibility to the waste, design of equipment) may act in concert with high working rate, visual fatigue due to poor illumination and perhaps muscle fatigue due to high work load. Musculoskeletal problems are also common among waste collectors. A good deal of knowledge has accumulated on mechanical load on the spine and energetic load on the cardio-pulmonary system in relation to the handling of waste bags, bins, domestic containers and large containers. However, epidemiologic studies with exposure classification based on field measurement are needed, both to further identify high risk work conditions and to provide a detailed basis for the establishment of occupational exposure limits for mechanical and energetic load particularly in relation to pulling, pushing and tilting of containers. In 1975, an excess risk for chronic bronchitis was reported for waste collectors in Geneva (Rufèner-Press et al., 1975) and data from the Danish Registry of Occupational Accidents and Diseases also indicate an excess risk for pulmonary problems among waste collectors compared with the total work force. Surprisingly few measurements of potentially hazardous airborne exposures have been performed, and the causality of work-related pulmonary problems among waste collectors is unknown. Recent studies have indicated that implementation of some new waste collection systems may result in an increased risk of occupational health problems. High incidence rates of gastrointestinal problems, irritation of the eye and skin, and perhaps symptoms of organic dust toxic syndrome (influenza-like symptoms, cough, muscle pains, fever, fatigue, headache) have been reported among workers collecting the biodegradable fraction of domestic waste. The few data available on exposure to bio-aerosols and volatile compounds have indicated that these waste collectors may be simultaneously exposed to multiple agents such as dust containing bacteria, endotoxin, mould spores, glucans, volatile organic compounds, and diesel exhaust. Several studies have reported similar health problems as well as high incidence rates of pulmonary disease among workers at plants recycling domestic waste.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / statistics & numerical data
  • Aerosols
  • Forecasting
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Lung Diseases / etiology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Waste Management*


  • Aerosols
  • Hydrocarbons