Don't be an accident waiting to happen

With an accident incident rate 63% less than the industry average, Neales Waste Management has built up an enviable reputation for health and safety. Debbie Salmon outlines how the company achieved this

Accident rates in the waste management industry are four times the national average in the UK, with fatalities a staggering ten times higher, according to the Bomel report 2001-2 (Health & Safety Executive). That makes the industry one of the most dangerous - even more than agriculture or construction.

At Neales Waste Management, however, our accident incident rate is 63% less than the waste industry average - and falling. This is not due to good luck or failure to report incidents, it is due to a proactive approach to health and safety (H&S). At Neales, our people are our most important asset.

For example, we gave advanced driver training to all our 33 refuse collection vehicle drivers. The results were greater confidence in their skills, vehicle bump and accident incidents reduced, less repairs needed and lower insurance costs. Defensive driver and fuel efficiency training resulted in even more benefits - reduced road accidents and less fuel usage.

Identifying risks to drivers
We recognised that one of the main risks to drivers came when they were putting nets over lightweight waste containers manually. This was potentially a high-risk operation - they could fall off or fall into the vehicle. Now, with automatic netting technology, the risk is removed, the job is done more efficiently and the waste is secure without risk of accidental escape.

Our philosophy is simply to assess all activities and seek to eliminate the risk. To reduce manual handling incident potential, employees are trained in manual and kinetic handling techniques, all the equipment used is serviced, and container doors greased and lubricated to prevent over-straining through operators having to use too much force.

These are straightforward initiatives, tackling specific risk areas. However, more fundamental is an 'across-company' safety culture - we all believe H&S is an integral part of successful business.

Create a clear policy
When I was appointed health, safety & environmental manager in 2000, my top priority was to develop a H&S policy in consultation with employees and introduce internal communications, monitoring and audit systems. We now have a management system with set targets, with the information obtained then used to find new ways of reducing risks and potential damage to the environment.

Driving H&S from the top through director leadership reassures employees that their well-being is a high priority for the company. It creates positive attitudes and develops a workforce open to ideas for improvement. For every employee we undertake an intensive induction, a training needs analysis, an individual annual training plan, training delivery and personal evaluation, and a training review.

Where hazards in work activity are identified from risk assessment, internal communications, meetings, inspections, audits or monitoring, the objectives and targets are set to eliminate the risk and improve H&S performance. These management programmes are allocated to project leaders with specific actions and targets for completion.

Currently, the biggest risk our employees face is probably on customers' own sites, where we have don't have direct control. For this reason we are now working closely with clients helping monitor H&S problems their employees - and our employees - encounter on their site.

We have a system where our drivers report near misses or hazards on internal communication and customer site information forms. We as a company then act on this information, notifying the risk potential to the client.

Assess risky customers
An overwhelming number of our customers are glad of this help and are working with us. However, some won't and we have then to take the business decision: 'Is the risk too great to work with these sorts of people?'. If the answer is yes, then ultimately we will cancel contracts and stop working with these businesses altogether. Our reputation, and the reputation of the waste management industry, is too great to put at risk.

The benefits Neales has achieved from its proactive H&S stance are numerous. We have a clean record with no prosecutions or fines, and a 4.3% reduction in our accident incident rate in 2005 - 63% less than the industry average.

We also benefit from a 30% reduction in insurance costs, increased staff morale, an all-time low absenteeism rate of 0.17%, and a reduced need to recruit new staff due to employee retention. Our vehicle fuel consumption is down by 14%, resulting in a cost saving of £50,000 a year, and our CO2 emissions are down by 134 tonnes. There has been a marked increase in client confidence, which has increased profitability for the company.

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