Waste industry puts its back into improving h&s record

The waste services sector is facing challenges on several fronts in carrying out its responsibilities in health and safety and in collecting, transporting and treating clinical waste.


The HSE is running a long running campaign to improve the waste and recycling industry's poor health and safety record and this, together with new guidance on healthcare waste and a redefinition of hazardous waste, amounts to a new regime for the management of these key issues.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which earlier this year launched a three-year initiative with the waste and recycling industry to address the high number of fatal and serious incidents that occur during collection and processing of municipal waste and recycling activities, has highlighted back injuries as one its priority concerns.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has urged waste management and recycling industries to visit its "Better Backs" micro site at www.betterbacks.hse.gov.uk or call 0845 345 0055 - both of which offer practical tips on how to avoid back-related injuries in the workplace.

Back pain caused by manual handling particularly affects the waste management and recycling industries because of the type of work carried out. Back injuries accounted for 23% of all injuries sustained in the waste and recycling industry in 2002/03, but by promoting the use of lifting and handling aids through the "Better Backs" campaign, HSE hopes to reduce the incidence of injuries of this nature.
The HSE lists the key considerations in protecting backs at work as:
  • Assessing the risks;
  • Choosing the right equipment;
  • Designing the job properly;
  • Good handling techniques; and
  • Helping employees suffering back injuries return to a full and active life.

  • Supporting the campaign, HSE's manufacturing sector is publishing conveyor belt sorting guidance on its website at www.hse.gov.uk/waste/conveyorbelt.pdf.

    Ergonomic Considerations for Designing and Selecting Conveyor Belt Systems advises on the design of conveyor belt workstations to prevent the risk of musculoskeletal injury by avoiding the need for seated or standing operators to stoop excessively, twist, or over-reach whilst working. Although written for all industries, it has particular relevance to sorting activities at materials recycling facilities.

    In a report prepared by Bomel Ltd for HSE on the waste industry, the year 1 April 2001 to 31 March 2002 saw 17 fatalities, 548 major injuries and 3,186 injuries that kept employees from work for over three days. The report, Mapping health and safety standards in the UK waste industry, can be found on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr240.htm

    Part of the wider initiative by the HSE to help the industry improve on the poor performance revealed in the Bomel report published last year involves visits to private companies and half of all local authorities that either manage their own, or contract out services.

    Assessing management
    Inspectors are assessing the management of health and safety, concentrating specifically on the design, specification and management of contracts, workplace transport, manual handling and employee welfare.

    At initial visits, inspectors are looking at policies and control measures in place and how these are managed, and will follow up one year later to check that employers required to produce an action plan of improvements have carried these out.

    The HSE waste/recycling webpage www.hse.gov.uk/waste/index.htm guides the industry to current sources of guidance and best practice.

    A checklist setting out the framework for effective planning, organising, controlling, and monitoring of activities, including a review of protective and preventive measures needed to ensure the health and safety of employees and others, is available from the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/waste/checklist.doc

    Live issues which the HSE has identified within the waste and recycling sector include: revitalising health and safety; the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum; refuse collection risks; musculo-skeletal disorders; design and maintenance issues; bioaerosols; hazardous waste, and transport

    Refuse collection risks
    The HSE says that street collection represents the largest area of risk in the industry. Current issues that need to be considered when carrying out street collections include:
  • Pedestrian protection from Refuse Collection Vehicles operating in streets
  • Reversing aids (eg CCTV cameras and improved mirrors etc) for street vehicles
  • Design and maintenance of safe systems of work for refuse collection
  • On-board washing facilities for Refuse Collection Vehicles
  • Reducing the risks of musculo-skeletal injury arising from collecting refuse and recyclables
  • Personal protective equipment for refuse collection workers (including cut-resistant trousers)
  • Hoist/receptacle compatibility and suitability. Methods for freeing jammed hoists.


  • The Executive is working with the industry, manufacturers and designers to investigate: the ergonomic design of waste materials receptacles; the design of vehicles and systems of work used for "kerbside sorting" the size and integrity of wheels used on "wheeled bins" and bulk refuse receptacles; the maintenance of bulk refuse receptacles' wheels; lifting points on skips; and "bottle banks" and similar containers.
    On bioaerosols, the HSE says that research in this area continues, but "Current worldwide knowledge on the precise effects of bioaerosols from waste and recycled materials on workers is inconclusive and does not yet provide uncontroversial dose-effect relationships."

    The Executive also points waste is considered "hazardous" under environmental legislation when it contains substances or has properties that might make it harmful to human health or the environment. The HSE adds that this does not necessarily mean it is an immediate risk to human health, although some waste can be.

    The Environment Agency's interpretation of the definition and classification of hazardous waste can be found in its technical guidance WM2. Many wastes
    are newly classified as "hazardous" and some companies now find themselves dealing with hazardous consignments for the first time. Hazardous waste is defined in the Hazardous Waste List incorporated in the European Waste Catalogue.

    Clinical waste issues
    The Sanitary Medical Disposal Services Association (SMDSA), which represents
    the hygiene and healthcare waste industry, has been playing an influential role in addressing the many issues which are arising from two major changes affecting clinical waste collection and disposal - new guidance in the safe disposal of clinical waste from NHS Estates, and the implementation of the Hazardous Waste Regulations.

    The new revised version of the current guidance document, Safe Disposal of Clinical Waste, will be titled, The Safe Management of Healthcare Waste. Enviros Consulting Ltd has been contracted to compile the new guidance, the content of which has been approved by a project steering group, composed of representatives from the UK environmental regulators, the Health and Safety Executive, the DfT, and from the NHS throughout the UK.

    The new guidance has been drafted to take into account recent regulatory changes, in particular the Hazardous Waste Regulations (Special Waste in Scotland) and the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment (Amendment) Regulations 2005.

    The SMDSA has been heavily involved in the production of the new guidance, with its representatives attending expert working groups established by NHS Estates to determine what best practice is. One of the innovations contained in the guidance
    is the introduction of a new, UK wide, colour coded segregation system for all healthcare waste.

    The new guidance is seen as providing an essential link for the healthcare sector and the joint agencies Hazardous Waste guidance WM2, by offering a practical interpretation of what is considered to be "hazardous waste."

    Hazardous waste transport
    The Environment Agency has addressed a glitch in the implementation of part of the Hazardous Waste Regulations which has been causing concern among waste carriers by announcing that it would accept Batch Applications for Consignment Notes. Prior to the introduction of the Hazardous Waste Regulations the Agency said that it had not been able to issue premises codes for all bulk registration from hazardous waste producers because of IT system difficulties.

    The Agency said that producers, carriers, brokers and waste managers should note
    that it would deem movements of hazardous waste using the temporary measures to
    be acceptable in the intervening period, but that would not prevent it from taking enforcement action against improper use of the interim "premises code" in other circumstances.

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