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NIOSH Identifies Hazards of Baling Equipment, Suggests Ways to Prevent Deaths, Injuries

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
August 29, 2003

Several workplace measures for preventing job-related deaths and injuries associated with baling and compacting machines are recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in a new bulletin.

Thirty-four workers were killed between 1992 and 2000 when they were caught in or crushed by the powerful compacting rams in baling or compacting machines, according to data analyzed by NIOSH. Baling or compacting machines are widely used in manufacturing and retail trade businesses to compress large amounts of cardboard, scrap metal, and other solid waste into smaller bales for handling and transportation.

In some balers or compactors, materials are placed directly into the chamber where they will be compressed. In other models, the materials are fed into a chute or hopper. Fatalities generally have involved situations in which employees entered a compactor to clear a jam, fell into the path of the ram, or reached into the machine while it was operating.

Material jams commonly occur in balers and compactors. Because many machines are automatically activated by the material that flows into them, the compacting ram stops moving when a jam occurs, the bulletin notes. Employees may not recognize that these machines are still turned on and can begin operating again suddenly. Employees also may not fully appreciate the hazards of entering or working near the hoppers that feed material into the machine, according to NIOSH.

Safety measures recommended by NIOSH include the following:

  • Whenever a baler or compactor is being unjammed, maintained, or repaired, it should be de-energized. In addition, pursuant to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules on lockout and tagout, the controls should be locked to prevent the machine from being turned on again inadvertently, and should be tagged to inform other employees that the machine is temporarily out of operation.
  • Balers and compactors should be equipped with machine guards and with safety interlocks that will immediately stop the machine if an employee attempts to gain access to the ram or the ram area.
  • Employers should establish and follow standard procedures for dealing safely with jams and other disruptions, and for requiring machine operators to account for the presence of co-workers before activating the equipment.
  • Platforms incorporating stairs and railings should be provided near the opening of feed chutes to provide safe access for clearing jams.
  • Employers should train their employees to recognize the hazards of working near balers and compactors, and to be familiar with safe working procedures.
  • Employers should not assign employees under age 18 to service, load, operate, or help operate balers and compactors, except for one limited exemption allowed by law as long as certain safety requirements are followed. The exemption under U.S. labor standards allows workers aged 16 and 17 to load de-energized scrap paper balers and cardboard box compactors, as long as the equipment is turned off, the switch is locked in the “off” position, and the employer posts a notice that the machine meets given design requirements. Where this exemption is allowed, the employer should ensure that these safety requirements under the exemption are met, NIOSH recommended.

“NIOSH Alert: Preventing Deaths and Injuries While Compacting or Baling Refuse Material,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2003-124, is available from 1-800-35-NIOSH or from the NIOSH web page at .