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Warning of health and safety risks from WEEE processing shortcuts

Shortcuts in Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) treatment threaten to increase the health and safety risks for waste operators and staff, warns electronic recycling company CKS.

With the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recent safety alert after nine deaths were reported in eight weeks, the industry has been called to review its procedures. CKS has found that there are serious health risks associated with the use of “so called” WEEE treatment facilities and has issued cautionary guidance to operators.

The company is worried that the traditional method of processing scrap metal and plastics, using high-speed shredders to cut the waste into smaller pieces for further separation, generates potentially hazardous dust particles.

It fears that as WEEE has historically contained heavy metals and compounds now found to pose health risks, there is a problem using equipment designed for scrap metal on WEEE. If items such as PCBs and batteries are not removed before processing, CKS feels the machinery could “liberate” the hazards that may otherwise be inert or trapped within the substrate of the component.

While the WEEE Directive provides good guidance it is seen by some as onerous. Scrap metal merchants, keen to re-use existing processes and keep costs down, have been lobbying hard to avoid the full implementation of Annex II of the WEEE Directive — concerned with the removal of key hazards before shredding.

CKS managing director Phil Sprason said: “More time and effort needs to be focussed upon how to identify and correctly treat the relatively small percentage, but significant amount of Annex II material contained in WEEE.”

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