In November the Health and Safety Executive published their annual findings on the state of safety within the waste management and recycling industry. Non-fatal injuries have continued to fall gradually from 2014 with most incidents occurring within the private sector.
Work-related ill-health higher than UK industry average
One of the notable findings from the report detailed the higher rate of workers’ ill-health per 100,000 individuals when compared to other sectors. An estimated 4.1% of waste workers suffered from work-related ill-health, new or long-standing in 2020. This rate is higher than the rate of ill-health shown in manufacturing (2.7%) and the construction industry (3.5%). It is also significantly higher than the industry average of 3.3% but lower than other industries like human health and social working (3.3%).
Whilst the sample collated by the HSE Executive was not large enough to warrant a breakdown of the numbers, there was a clear trend of mental health-related illnesses taking up a large proportion (over 1 third) of the total cases of ill-health within the profession.
The large proportion of musculoskeletal disorders is also worth noting as it too takes up a large proportion of the total illnesses when compared to the category for ‘all other diseases’. This may be indicative of poor industrial ergonomics within the waste management industry.
The study from Battini et., al, (2018) found the risk of musculoskeletal occurred when the waste was being tipped into the recycling vehicles. Postural assessments revealed high exposure to postural risk factors for the back in a standing posture. The higher density of waste collected in urban areas also meant the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders was potentially varied depending on the round being taken.
The study from Battini et., al, (2018) attempted to identify and offer solutions to the lack of proper ergonomics care in the waste management sector, specifically door-to-door collection schemes. Some of the recommendations included:
- Lifting bins by keeping the load close to the body and keeping a straight back
- Shorter truck containers on the collection vehicles
- Scheduling workers around high and low-density waste environments
These changes must come with a culture of improvement from safety in a holistic sense, these are not definitive measures that will reduce harm in isolation, but they can work well as part of an overarching strategy.
Legal comment from Paul Verrico and Sarah Valentine
The statistics released from the HSE Executive show there are improvements that can be made within the profession to help drive down accident rates and ill-health. HSE Network sat down with Paul Verrico, a Partner at Eversheds Sutherland and Sarah Valentine, a senior lawyer and deputy coroner to discuss ideas on how to improve the safety record in waste management.
Waste sector fatal statistics
We have attached two guidance notes from the HSE, whilst a couple of years old they are helpful as they set out some of the reasons as to why statistics within this sector are high and suggest where attention should be directed by senior management.
- The environment – increased chance of slips and trips
- Potential language issues – many of the workforce are different nationalities within this sector (impact on briefings, training, instructions)
- High turnover of workforce – potential competency and training issues again
- Material handling, often difficult items etc
- Using FLTs etc without a licence
- Working with conveyor belts – risky
- Lack of supervision
Waste Sector – incident and ill-health statistics
The table below provides further explanation behind the statistics and steps organisations can take to mitigate these risks and as part of their H&S strategy reduce lost working time for ill-health conditions.
Why is it worse in waste
What can be done to help
|Ill-health (mental health)
|My personal sense is that if you look at the equation we prefer is leadership x environment x resilience = wellbeing. The waste sector is a harsh and demanding environment and that may loses the above equation pulling wellbeing low.
|· HSE Guidance:
· HSE’s guidance in relation to lone workers – keeping in touch, have emergency procedures in place, monitor the worker’s health.
|HSE states that in the waste management sector, these are caused by load weight, receptacle type and design, vehicle design, collection frequency, street environment, training, systems of work, and working outside the employees’ capabilities.
|· HSE guidance: can be overcome by the correct management of the risk (in particular address manual handling, repetitive work and postures, exposure to vibration and working with display screen equipment) and implementation of control measures.
|As outlined in HSE’s report, there are four common underlying human factors that tend to contribute to fatalities in the waste and recycling industry. They are:
a. “Preconditions for deficit (fundamental issues, such as lack of separation of workers and hazardous machinery);
b. Organisational influences (such as inadequate safety management systems and safety culture);
c. Individual actions (such as tasks not being performed in the safest manner); and
d. Wider influences (mainly SMEs such as machinery that is supplied to them with inadequate documentation on safe operation)”.
|· HSE’s report – focus on equipment selection, use and maintenance, raising awareness of associated risks, have an effective safety management systems, and share good practice.
|· Adopting WISH guidance, such as training staff.
· HSE guidance in relation to each injury.
· HSE’s manual handling guidance – avoiding hazardous manual handling so far as reasonably practicable, assessing the risk of injury and reducing the risk.
· HSE’s working at height guidance – avoid working at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so, prevent falls and minimise the distance and consequences of a fall.
· HSE’s guidance in relation to slips and trips – prevent wet or contaminated floors, look out for trip hazards, ensure appropriate footwear is worn.
About Paul Verrico Sarah Valentine
Sarah Valentine is a senior Associate within the Corporate Compliance Group at Eversheds and advises companies on the robustness of their safety management systems and has completed health and safety reviews for several global organisations.
Paul Verrico is a Partner at Eversheds Sutherland and specialises in corporate criminal defence. Paul has experience covering health and safety, environment and road traffic incident
Battini, D., Botti, L., Mora, C. and Sgarbossa, F., 2018. Ergonomics and human factors in waste collection: analysis and suggestions for the door-to-door method. IFAC-PapersOnLine, 51(11), pp.838-843.