Safety a priority for dangerous waste industry

Waste management companies must work with their customers and the Health and Safety Executive to reduce the rates of accidents and work-related illness in an industry plagued by death and injury, a meeting in London heard on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Environmental Service Association’s Improving Health and Safety Performance in the Waste Management Sector seminar at Painter’s Hall, James Barrett, head of manufacturing at the HSE, told those working in the waste industry that improvements were being made but it was important to keep the momentum going to make waste collection safer for operatives and the public.

Other industries with an unenviable safety record historically had made radical changes to address the issue and managed to slash the number of workplace accidents, he said.

Quarrying, for example, had managed to half the number of accidents after introducing industry-wide measures to address the issue.

“In the UK last year 235 people died as a result of their work and there were over 30,000 major injuries – broken bones and permanent maiming,” he said.

“Some two million were made ill from their work. Apart from the human pain and suffering there are economic costs. The economy paid out £14 billion in the last year due to ill health and injury, which is a considerable toll.”

It was important that the industry worked with the HSE to make working life safer for waste professionals, he said, and on this particular occasion nobody was in competition with each other – it was vital that companies shared good practice and ideas.

Paul Harvey, principal inspector for the HSE, gave an overview of the state of health and safety on municipal waste collection rounds and said that while good progress was being made in reducing the obvious risks – providing high-vis, protective clothing and CCTV on the rear of vehicles and alarms to make reversing safer, for example – there were still significant gaps in less obvious areas, such as providing wash facilities on trucks for operatives to clean themselves in the case of contamination or ergonomic design of vehicles to make loading easier and avoid injuries from lifting.

“With the obvious, long established issues we’ve got a chance,” he said.

“But when we start talking about some of the newer issues, the industry has to work a bit harder on that. I can see that the industry is moving in the right direction and our inspectors are finding many cases of good practice showing you can do it and you can do it right.

“You need to keep doing that for the sake of the workers and the industry.”

Paul Thornber, health and safety manager for Veolia Environmental Services and advisor to the ESA, looked at the issues facing collections or commercial waste and steps that his company was taking to improve its safety performance in that area.

One of the key problems is that while waste companies could take every measure to ensure the safety of their staff, by the nature of the job the work takes place on somebody else’s premises, he said.

He cited numerous examples of problems where customers had made access to waste containers difficult or hazardous and put the wrong waste in the wrong bins, adding to the risks.

As a solution he advocated closer co-operation between management, workers and customers and showed delegates a contract which clearly spelled out how clients would store their waste and prepare it for collection.

If there were lapses in that which made life difficult, and dangerous, for drivers and other operatives, the staff could fill out a simple card for their managers describing the problem then action could be taken to resolve it and stop it from recurring.

“For each site you need inspection, evaluation, information, communication and co-operation,” he said.

“All of these contribute to a safe commercial waste collection and all of us need to get things right from the start, monitor that they remain right, inform people of our concerns and communicate those concerns to everyone concerned.

“Communication and co-operation equal safe collection.”

He said the ESA would soon be publishing its guidance on safe commercial collection and it would be made available to members.

Sam Bond

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