By Brian Haney, Vice President, Safety & Compliance, Leadpoint Business Services 

There’s no question that an effective safety culture in any MRF depends on quickly, easily and consistently engaging the workforce in safe behavior. This is a challenge for nearly every MRF I’ve worked with over the last 15 years.

With so many competing priorities, like production, quality, revenue and expense, how can we as leaders ensure that our safety message is woven into the fabric of every employee’s daily duties?

We can train them on the latest and greatest safety models like Swiss Cheese, FRAM, STAMP, and others that have come and gone over the years.

However, safety theory can be overwhelming to communicate. There has to be a better way to get general hazard recognition and safety concepts to “stick” with employees.

Know the A-B-Cs

What I want a MRF workforce to think about each and every day on the job is the basics: their Safety A-B-Cs.

I developed this model several years ago and have seen it work in numerous MRF environments. Here is the outline.

A – Activate Your Brain

We want our employees to know that they can’t sleepwalk through this job and be safe. They need to THINK ABOUT SAFETY at all times.

From a management perspective, we need to find those things that “activate” our employee’s brains. They could be daily safety meetings, incentive programs, stretching programs, or communications.

Leaders will have to develop the formula for what combination of activators works best for them. Every worksite is unique, and every work group responds differently to these motivational concepts.

My advice: let the employees tell you what gets their attention and then focus on that method. The best way to find out what “activates” your workforce is to involve them in the process. Ask them directly, “What do you think would help you think about safety throughout the day?”

My experience tells me that your workforce will come up with the most creative and effective ideas! And, if an individual or local safety committee comes up with the idea, it will have more grassroots support. It helps the team OWN their personal safety.

B – Be Aware of Your Hazards

Very simply put, this is classic hazard recognition. Explain to your team that we all do hazard assessments all the time.

  • That light just turned yellow – can I make it or not? What are the hazards associated with this situation?
  • That box sure looks heavy – I wonder if I can lift it myself, or if I should get help?
  • What will the boss say if it takes too long to get this job done? What are the consequences of my decision?
  • The guard is missing on that piece of equipment – what if I (or someone else) got my hand in there? Wow, that would be dangerous!

We must establish a culture of hazard assessment. That starts by teaching people the routine hazards they are likely to face and then progressing to identifying new hazards as they present themselves.

We must provide a safe way for employees to report unsafe conditions and unsafe actions. If we act on their concerns and reward them for their active participation in hazard identification, then the culture of reporting will blossom. If we fail to act, or react negatively, that culture will wither on the vine and we will continue to be surprised by the things we find during our own site assessments.

This is especially concerning when we discover that the hazard has been present for a long time but only comes to light as part of a post-accident incident investigation. If you’ve ever said to yourself during an investigation, “Why didn’t someone tell us that this was a problem?” then it’s time to take a hard look at the culture that’s worked against hazard reporting.

C – Control Your Hazards

Once you have your team activated and looking for hazards, what are you going to do to implement solutions, control hazards, and create a safer workplace?

There are many ways to control hazards and build safe practices. Here are some tools that can help.

Job Specific Training. Teach the team the specific hazards they may face with each task. For example, if they are a screen cleaner in a MRF, they should understand the hazards of the equipment and how to execute lock out / tag out.

Stop-Work Authority. This is critical for empowering employees and driving safety. When employees have true stop-work authority, they can call “Time Out” and take control of the situation. This is also a simple way to control hazards an employee is unfamiliar with or hasn’t been trained to handle.

Hierarchy of Hazard Controls. There is a hierarchy of controls that can be taught to employees as they consider each hazard and how to approach or control it.

  • First: Engineering Controls. Can we engineer or design the problem away? For example, if there is a fall hazard associated with performing a maintenance function, can we install a work platform to eliminate the risk of falling?
  • Second: Administrative Controls. What training, policy or procedure can we establish to mitigate the risk? While less effective than engineering the problem away, administrative controls still can be useful in reducing exposures. Teach employees proper techniques or establish rules about how to perform certain tasks. This can have a significant impact on safety performance.
  • Third: Personal Protective Equipment. Is there some type of equipment or gear that can be worn to minimize the effects of exposure to this hazard? In the recycling environment it’s almost impossible to eliminate the risk of debris flying up at the sorters, which is why safety glasses are required.

A Productive Safety Outcome

When a site embraces the A-B-Cs of Safety approach and manage to it consistently, their employees will create a deeper understanding of what safety is all about and their role in ensuring a safer environment for everyone.

It doesn’t take a seminar, OSHA class or college degree. It takes communication and commitment to build a safety culture.

The A-B-Cs of Safety is something any employee can understand, and with your support, implement.

Brian Haney is Vice President, Safety & Compliance, at Leadpoint, the expert in providing operational support and execution to MRF operators across the country. Brian brings more than 20 years of environmental, health and safety practice to his role at Leadpoint. For the last 15 years, he has focused exclusively on safety and environmental leadership in the recycling industry. Prior to that, Brian worked in a safety and compliance roles for an international chemical distributor and as a consultant. Brian has a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology and a master’s degree in hazardous materials and waste management, both from Arizona State University. He is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Waste and Recycling Association. Contact Brian at or visit

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