Health and Safety in the Waste and Recycling Industry

WasteIndustryBlueprint for safety

A blueprint for addressing “the terrible toll” of death, injury and ill health in the waste and recycling industry is to be published following a landmark summit, according to the HSE.

Senior figures from across the sector recently met at the summit in Solihull to agree the key health and safety issues facing the industry and what needs to be done to tackle its poor health and safety record.

The event, aimed at building consensus and bringing together key players in the industry, was organised by the HSE and the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum.

WISH members include representatives from HSE, trade associations, professional associations, trade unions, recycling organisations and national and local government bodies involved in waste management and recycling.

The plan is expected to be published once it has been ratified by WISH and will contain sections on leadership, competence, worker involvement, support for small business, and creating safer, healthier workplaces.

Giving the keynote speech at the event, Judith Hackitt, Chair of the HSE, said, “We must work together to respond to the current challenges and drive improvements in health and safety performance, but improving the track record is not for HSE to resolve alone — industry must take the lead.”

Similarly, Chris Jones, WISH chair and Director of Risk Management and Compliance at Cory Environmental, said, “The theme of the summit was delivering the solution together. We have established that there is a clear willingness and commitment to take action — now we have to stop talking about it and get on with making it happen.”

Delegates at the event were urged to sign up to a statement of intent on HSE’s website, making a public commitment to drive improvements.

High risk industry

Although HSE statistics show a downward trend regarding injury rates in the waste and recycling industry the work remains high-risk. Although waste and recycling accounts for only about 0.6% of the employees in Britain it still accounts for 2.8% of reported injuries to employees (4.2% fatalities, 2.5% major and 2.9% of over-3-day injuries).

For the period 2011/12, HSE reported that:

  • There were six fatal injuries to workers, one of these fatalities was to a self-employed person
  • There was one fatal injury to a member of the public
  • The rate of reported over-3-day injury is almost five times that in agriculture or construction
  • Almost a third of the fatalities (29%) are due to employees being struck by vehicles
  • About a third (35%) of reported major injuries are due to slips and trips
  • Almost half (45%) of reported over-3-day injuries are due to handling.

Divergence across sector

WasteIndustry-1In September 2012, the Environmental Services Association (ESA), which represents waste and resource management companies, expressed concern over what it claimed is a growing divergence in health and safety trends between its members and that of the wider waste sector.

The statement was made by ESA as it released new data which compares accident trends among its own membership with aggregate data from the HSE for the sector as a whole.

For example, the accident rate per 100,000 employees across ESA members was 1327 in 2011. This compares to a figure of 2050 for the sector as a whole (taken from HSE provisional data for 2010/2011, for all private sector companies, local authority waste operations and third sector waste organisations).

Similarly, ESA says that while its members reduced accidents by 20% between 2010 and 2011, the accident rate for the waste sector as a whole actually increased by 3% over the comparable period, according to HSE data for 2009/10 to 2010/11.

The trade body says its members have, since 2004, reduced accidents by almost 70%.

Commenting on the figures, Glenn Davies, the Chairman of ESA’s Health and Safety Committee, said, “We are acutely aware of the inherently hazardous nature of our industry, whether our colleagues are operating heavy machinery or working in public roads on collection rounds. That’s why ESA and its members have for many years made improving our industry’s health and safety record an absolute priority.”

“However,” he added, “the data we have produced appears to show that the progress we have made has not been matched across the rest of the waste sector. Every serious accident and fatality is a human tragedy, and we believe that this divergence is a cause for concern.”

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