Safety versus service in kerbside collection

How can safety go hand in hand with an efficient collection service? Operational issues at the kerbside came under the spotlight at a recent CIWM seminar. Katie Coyne reports

Arguments over whether kerbside collection boxes or bins are safer could be silenced with the application of a bit of thought, according to an expert from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

At a briefing into the subject hosted by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) in London last month, Trevor Hay, from the HSE, diplomatically seemed to suggest that both boxes and bins had their place. Just as long as thought was applied, he added, to “consider all the options and consequences” of their use within a scheme, “safety mistakes could be avoided”.

Hay summarised some basic points that should be considered. He argued that if operatives didn’t need to lift waste then they should avoid doing so. Waste weight should also be kept to a minimum and appropriate lifting techniques should be used.

Information should be provided for residents about the collection system chosen and waste shouldn’t be carried more than 10 metres. The type of collection vehicle to be used should also be considered.

Chris Jones, director of risk management and compliance at Cory Environmental – who was part of the audience – agreed. He told LAWR: “The industry needs to stop and think and work out the safety implications when we introduce new systems. We have inherited systems that haven’t put health and safety at the forefront – although this is starting to change.”

To illustrate the point Jones mentioned a pilot where a collection authority had trialled 96 litre boxes – unsurprisingly, when these boxes were full collection crews couldn’t lift them.

Andy Bond, managing director of ECT Group, revealed in his presentation that accident statistics for his company’s kerbside collection work is about a third of the waste industry’s average.

Keep vehicle movements slow

Bond put forward a few suggested ideas as to why his company’s accident rates might be so low. Slower vehicle movement involved in kerbside collection could increase visibility and reduce the likelihood of operatives being knocked down – a major concern for collection crews. Bond also suggested that the system might be less repetitive for crews than other collection schemes.

However, he argued that the most influential factor in his opinion was that his company management take health and safety seriously – focusing on good management systems.

Bond also said that source separated recyclables produced a much better environmental outcome in terms of carbon footprint than co-mingled waste. This is of an over-arching global health and safety issue.

He added: “Weekly collections produce a higher recycling rate and lower box weights – thus achieving two objectives at once.”

With all the recent coverage in the mainstream press on alternate weekly collections, CIWM invited Dr Toni Gladding, from the Open University, to comment on some of the associated health issues. Most of the work done on the release of airborne micro-organisms has been carried out abroad.

Public faces airborne risk

Elderly, children and those with weakened immune systems such as transplant patients, face an increased risk. Workers also face increased risk as their exposure levels are higher and Dr Gadding argued that: “Workers should at the very least be vaccinated against Hepatitis and Polio.”

Dr Gladding also mentioned Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome (ODTS) which operators can suffer from, that results in flu-like symptoms several hours after exposure.

Other pathways of exposure highlighted by Dr Gladding included injection and absorption – which could be addressed with the use of gloves and other appropriate work clothing. The effects of other areas of exposure such as ingestion and contact could be reduced with better hygiene practices.

Katie Coyne is a freelance journalist

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