Health and safety goes under the microscope

Clinical waste remains one of the main areas of concern in the environmental sector as potential risks in operations such as composting also come under scrutiny. LAWE reports on the widening role of health and safety within the waste industry

The potential risks that face anyone involved in the handling and disposal of clinical waste were, quite literally, brought into sharp focus with a prosecution of a leading London hospital brought in earlier this year by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

HSE prosecuting inspector, Emmie Galilee, said: “This case sends out a clear message to all those in the healthcare sector of the need for effective control measures to ensure sharps bins are always located safely.”

The case was held at the City of London Magistrates’ Court where UCL Hospitals NHS Trust was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay full costs of over £900.

Another NHS Trust, Mayday Healthcare, was fined £15,000 on 30 May 2002 for failing to get a waste management licence for the storage and transfer of clinical waste.

The Environment Agency, in that instance, took legal action after the hospital ignored warnings that they needed to obtain a licence to move the operation from an existing site, which had a licence, to another site at the hospital.

The NHS Trust pleaded guilty and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £2,550 in prosecution costs by Croydon Magistrates’ Court.

The licensed site, which not only took waste from the hospital but from several other London borough hospitals and research establishments, failed an inspection by the HSE. A notice was issued on 17 January 2001 for improvements to me made within a nine month period.

However, five days after the improvement notice was issued, the hospital transferred the operation from the boiler house to the energy centre. In a meeting in December the Environment Agency informed the hospital that a licence would be needed for such a move. It became apparent after a meeting in March 2001 that the operation had been moved and the clinical waste was being stored and transferred illegally.

The Environment Agency has recognised the importance of the waste regulation and management of clinical waste with an R&D project where the objective is to provide support for both licensing and enforcing clinical waste storage and management practices: to review UK and international waste storage practice; to identify environmental/health risks and to analyse/monitor clinical waste and the sites which handle these, for pathogen loadings and release.

Health impact of waste treatment

Reflecting the widening concern over health related issues in the waste sector, ESART, funded by a £2,423 grant from Biffaward, has produced a position paper and discussion document summarising existing work on the environmental health related impacts of different waste treatment and processing technologies.

ESART has made recommendations for areas of future research to be used to discuss and agree priority projects with the wide r waste management industry, as well as to provide the basis of future partnership discussions with the Environment Agency and the formulation of joint research and development project initiatives.

Composting and contaminated land are key areas being explored currently in terms of the implications there may be for health.

Following a risk assessment commissioned by DEFRA into composting catering wastes, The Composting Association and the Department held a jointly arranged conference in June to discuss plans to implement legislative changes. A consultation paper is the precursor to a revised Animal By-Products Order which it is hoped will go before Parliament before the end of the year.

Composting and biogas plants are regulated by the Environment Agency and DEFRA is working closely with the Agency to harmonise regulatory controls.

Earlier in the year a contaminated land exposure assessment (CLEA) model was published by DEFRA and the Agency. This provided, for the first time, a scientifically based framework for the assessment of risks to human health from land contamination.

The Environment Agency said: “Decisions regarding contaminated land and brownfield sites can now be based on sound science, thus removing doubt and potential blight from many sites. Sites that could present a possibility of significant harm to human health will also b easier to identify.”

Advice for waste industry

On the more general health and safety issues affecting the waste industry the HSE, in consultation with the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH) has recently published a leaflet – Waste Industry Safety and Health – Reducing the Risks – aimed at supervisory staff and employees,, which provides a checklist of standards to aim at.

The HSE points out that the leaflet does not interpret health and safety law, not does it claim to be comprehensive or definitive in its guidance; for example, guidance on waste collection activities has been excluded, but the Executive says that reference to the publication could help to enable duty holders in the industry to devise, institute, monitor and revise methods of work at their sites.

Topics covered include: safe site; safe vehicles; safe working systems; safe workers; the sheeting and unsheeting of vehicles and containers and automatic sheeting systems. There is also a checklist for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the avoidance of breathing in dust and airborne “bugs”. Single free copies of the leaflet are available from HSE Books reference INDG359.

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