Waste disposal: Highest fatality at work rate of any industrial sector

The waste management industry might not be the most glamorous sector in the world and would certainly not be a top choice for most people but in reality, it is an essential service to keep the country moving and plays an integral part in modern society by helping protect the environment by preventing waste from going to landfill. However, like any other sector involving heavy machinery, physical labour and people working long spells outdoors it is one where accidents sometimes fatal, can take place.

According to the HSE annual workplace fatality figures (April 2017 and March 2018) there were 12-fatal injuries to waste and recycling workers during the period which is a reduction from the 14 in 2016/17.
This number may seem low however this is hidden in the statistics; its annual injury rate over the last five years is 16 times higher (10.26 per 10,000 workers) than the average rate across all sectors (0.45 per 100,000 workers). The HSE figures also reveal that four members of the public suffered fatal injuries which were linked to waste and recycling. Further, although the HSE figures do not list the specific details of each of these accidents, it is thought that several of these people died after falling asleep in bins or skips, which were then tipped into lorries or taken to recycling sites.

“People are placing themselves at serious risk of harm by sleeping or seeking refuge within waste containers,” says Environmental Services Association Policy Analyst, Stephen Freeland.

“If undiscovered during the collection and tipping of the container into the back of a refuse collection vehicle the chances of survival are very slim. There are various means in which the industry can help address this issue, such as training of collection crews to check bins prior to uplift or raising awareness of the ‘tell-tale’ signs that someone might have sought refuge inside a container,” adds Mr Freeland.

“Industry guidance is available through the Waste Industry Safety & Health (WISH) Forum on the control
procedures which can help increase the chances of discovering people before a container is lifted and tipped into the refuse vehicle.While the waste management industry clearly has a role to play, an often-overlooked aspect is the legal responsibilities of businesses themselves – those that produce waste in the first place – who are duty bound to ensure that containers (and waste) are secure, both during storage and upon being presented for collection.”

“Secure, locked storage areas should be used by businesses where available but where such facilities are not available, basic housekeeping measures could help reduce the likelihood of people accessing containers. Care should therefore be taken to avoid overloading containers with so much material that it prevents the lid from shutting and being securely locked.”

‘Refuse not Refuge’

The waste management sector has launched several initiatives aimed at tackling the issue of rough sleepers using bins and skips for containers. B&M Waste Services has its ‘Refuse not Refuge’ campaign, which it has been running for several years, while Biffa has worked with charity Homeless Link to promote its StreetLink service, which enables the public to alert local authorities in England and Wales about people sleeping rough in their area.

To read the full HSE report, click here.

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