Sheltering people from bin deaths

Commercial waste containers aren't the most obvious choice for a temporary shelter, but people do climb into them and die as a result. Guidance has just been released to help safeguard against such tragedies

Three people who decided to shelter in a waste or recycling bin have died since May last year after being tipped into collection vehicles. But there have been anecdotal industry reports of many other near misses.

To address this, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has teamed up with the Waste Industry Safety & Health (WISH) Forum to produce a free guide to help prevent waste bin deaths and injury. The best practice guide People in commercial waste containers recommends that instances where people are discovered sheltering in bins should be recorded, even when no damage or harm takes place.

This will help companies identify clusters or trends and modify the risk assessment accordingly. The HSE already provides advice on how to carry out a risk assessment. If a person found in a bin has been injured due to the waste collection process, then this must be reported under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations).

People are most likely to shelter in four-wheeled commercial or communal domestic bins of 660-litres plus capacity, and so the guide is aimed at companies working with these containers. The HSE says it recommends a “proportionate and common sense approach” to the issue and asks operators to assess how likely it is for someone to enter a bin, what simple steps it could take to prevent this and to make sure that employees are on-board.

The most obvious area to look at is how accessible the bins are and whether they are locked or restricted. The guidance says companies ought to consider whether the area has a high population of rough sleepers, drug abusers, alcoholics or vagrants and whether there are any other known instances of people being found, or seen near, bins. The season and weather will also be a factor in whether people try and take shelter in a bin. The type of waste being stored may make be a factor in making sheltering there a more or less attractive option. Lastly, how well lit the storage area is and its location – for example if it is quiet – will also be a factor.

Collection crew have a role to play

The report recommends that those collecting waste also take on board some of these responsibilities as well to ensure that collection vehicle crew are aware of potential problems. It recommends that collection systems should contain clear advice on where the vehicle’s compactor blade is, and how it can be quickly shut down in an emergency.

Crew should also carry out bin checks. This might involve banging on the sides of the container or lifting the lid of the container – making sure the person doing the checking is not put at risk of injury. However, in the case where a person sheltering in a bin is intoxicated, banging on the sides of the container may not be enough to rouse them.

The guidance recommends that crew be aware of the types of waste that

should be in the bin so they can spot anomalies that may indicate that someone is sheltering there. These items might be full carrier bags, rucksacks, luggage, blankets or quilts. Drivers operating front end loaders can’t see the waste as the bin is being emptied and as the bin is lifted off the ground, this prevents a person from escaping. It is recommended that as well as being manually checked, waste collected in this way is banged prior to being lifted using the lift mechanism.

CCTV can be used to help reduce the risk of death or injury, but should not be relied upon too closely, due to limitations such as restricted views, and its reliance on constant human monitoring. The guidance also recommends stickering bins with warning labels – but again says this should not replace the measures outlined above. The labels should have diagrams on them to overcome language barriers or literacy difficulties. They should warn both the people who shelter in them and the collection loaders about the need to check the bin.

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