The warning comes as the Environmental Services Association (ESA) releases new data which compares accident trends among its own membership with aggregate Health & Safety Executive (HSE) data for the sector as a whole.

This aggregate data includes local authority waste operations, third sector waste organisations and private sector waste management companies who are outside of ESA’s membership.

According to the ESA, progress in health and safety improvements made by its own members is outstripping that across the rest of the industry – and that such wide variation in safety rates is cause for concern.

According to the association’s own research, its members achieved a 20% reduction in accidents in 2011 compared to 2010 – compared to 3% increase in accident rates for the waste sector as a whole.

Likewise, the accident rate per 100,000 employees across ESA members was 1,327 in 2011. This compares to a figure of 2,050 for the sector as a whole, according to provisional data from the HSE.

ESA health & safety committee chairman Glenn Davies said that since the creation of the ESA Accident Reduction Charter in 2004, which was jointly agreed with HSE, its members have reduced accidents by almost 70%.

“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.

“As a first step, we would like to see HSE provide a breakdown of health and safety data by waste subsector to improve awareness of where the challenges lie.

“I would also emphasise that ESA is willing to work with other parts of the sector, to share the expertise we have, if that would assist in reducing accident rates elsewhere.”

Meanwhile new laws designed to recover the estimated £44m annual cost of investigating workplace accidents could cost Scottish businesses thousands of pounds, according to Scotland’s largest independent commercial insurance broker Central Insurance.

Under the current regime, businesses and directors can be fined by HSE following a breach of health and safety rules. From October, HSE will also levy costs onto those bills to fill the financial gap left after government funding cuts.

Scottish workplace injuries totalled 780 in 2010-11, with 15 fatalities. Most of these occurred in the agriculture, construction and waste and recycling sectors.

Central Insurance’s risk manager Martin Gray, risk manager at Central Insurance said it was important for businesses to keep the odds in their favour regarding accident risk.

“The bad news for companies which breach the rules is they will need to pick up the tab for the HSE’s costs, which could run into tens of thousands of pounds in some bigger cases,” he said.

While actual fees will vary depending on the complexity of individual cases, the cost applied for time spent by HSE staff has been set at £124 per hour.

Maxine Perella

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