Five workers were found dead and one more is seriously injured after a wall collapsed at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling Limited,  based in Birmingham, UK.  The wall collapsed on Thursday, July 7th, but three of the bodies were recovered early Friday morning, after a painstaking two-day operation by emergency services involving the use of heavy lifting gear.

According the police officers the men, were crushed to death underneath the eight-metre-tall concrete and metal structure shortly before 9am on Thursday. A sixth man was partially trapped by the falling concrete and sustained a broken leg, but managed to free himself from the rubble, the West Midlands ambulance service said.

The men are originally from Gambia and are all Spanish nationals, who were working, with the minimum wage, to clean out a metal storage bay when a 4.5m side wall collapsed on them, crushing the men. A fund has been set up to help support the families of all the men who have died with almost £15,000 raised.

Forensic post-mortem examinations are set to be carried out on the victims on Monday and the coroner has been kept closely informed of developments. Specialist CT scanning equipment is required in order to establish how the men died and they will only be identified through DNA.

The incident shows the importance of the health and safety rules in recycling facilities. It should also act like an alarming signal for all of us involved in the waste and recycling industry. Just to give you an idea of the importance of health and safety in recycling, a recent US report found that recycling work is “unnecessarily hazardous” to workers’ health and safety. Seventeen American recycling workers died on the job from 2011 to 2013. Recycling workers are more than twice as likely to be injured at work as the average worker.

As the report Safe & Sustainable Recycling: Protecting Workers Who Protect the Planet highlights “The industry’s high injury and fatality rates are a result of unsafe working conditions around heavy machinery and exposure to hazardous items on the sort line, like hypodermic needles, toxic chemicals and animal carcasses. Many waste and recycling companies heavily rely on temporary workers, who have fewer workplace protections and are less likely to be informed of their legal right to a safe and healthy workplace”.

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