The scrap metal recycling industry is large, intricate and full of dangerous processing techniques that pose a variety of safety and health hazards to workers, according to OSHA. One of these hazards is working with furnaces – a machine OSHA cites as being used to “heat scrap pieces to high temperatures to separate different metal components, increase the purity of scrap, bake out non-metal substances, burn off contaminants, remove insulation from wire, or otherwise process the metal scrap.”
OSHA warns that employees working near operational furnaces can be exposed to hazards even if they do not directly use the furnace. These dangers include metal fumes generated from heating the scrap, hot pieces of metal jumping from the furnace – creating fire and burn hazards – and the risk of electrocution if working with an electrical furnace, which uses large amounts of electricity.
To help keep employees safe, employers must ensure furnace refractories are kept in good condition and workers follow all electrical safety guidelines. OSHA also notes that employers should ensure workers have enough room to safely work when near energized furnaces.
Besides electrical and burn-related dangers, furnaces can produce toxic metal fumes, depending on temperature and content. During heating, combustion byproducts can include sulfur, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.