Business

EA and HSE join forces to ensure waste worker safety in NE

The Environment Agency (EA) has joined forces with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in the North East to carry out visits to check waste sites aren’t flouting important legislation.

The visits have been carried out both to make sure the sites are operating within the conditions of their environmental permits and to ensure the health and safety of workers isn’t being put at risk.

The new multi-agency approach aims to improve working practices on regulated sites. During the last series of visits at the end of 2016, staff attended 13 sites across the region, with more visits proposed for the early part of 2017.

EA and HSE join forces to ensure waste worker safety in NE
Workers exposed to ‘irreversible health conditions’

To date, the joint initiative has focused on sites that recycle, process or store waste metal, such as scrap vehicles and general waste metal. Operators use a variety of processes and equipment to strip, cut and burn waste to extract the key metal and components, and this work has the potential to expose workers to health and safety risks.

An average of seven people are killed each year in the waste industry, including members of the public, according to HSE statistics (which only cover accidents specifically related to work processes). The main causes of death are people being run over or struck moving vehicles or something unstable collapsing on them.

HSE Inspector Victoria Wise said: “A high number of workers in this industry are also exposed to processes that cause irreversible ill health conditions. During the last joint initiative, HSE found eight sites visited to be in significant contravention of health and safety law with seven enforcement notices served.”

Commenting on the new approach, Ruth Tyson from the EA said: “We manage our permitted sites every single day to ensure they are operating within the law, to protect the environment and to minimise impact on the local community.

“Health and safety is paramount when our officers are visiting sites and officers regularly contact HSE if they feel a site is unsafe. These joint operations are a really good opportunity to share knowledge with other agencies and mean we look at the site from different perspectives, ensuring any issues impacting on the environment and community can be looked at together with site safety.”

‘right Waste, right Place’ campaign expands to Wales

As well as the inter-agency action being taken to ensure proper practice, it was announced last week that the ‘right Waste, right Place’ (rWrP) campaign, which raises awareness about business waste responsibilities, has expanded to Wales.

Companies sign up to help inform small businesses of legal waste responsibilities
Launched in August 2016, the campaign revealed that a large number of businesses across the UK are struggling to do the right thing with their waste, with many unaware of their obligations.

Natural Resources Wales has lent its support to the campaign, which will target small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and other organisations throughout Wales with information on their duty of care obligations. Powys County Council was the first Welsh council to join as an ambassador, and rWrP reports that ‘many more organisations’ have expressed an interest in supporting the campaign.

All businesses are legally required, according to the duty of care, to ensure that their waste is legally disposed of, with those failing to comply running the risk of being hit with an unlimited fine in England and Wales and up to £5,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Half of Welsh businesses carrying out illegal waste disposal

Research conducted by rWrP showed that 98 per cent of Welsh businesses thought that they were meeting their obligations, but nearly half admitted to practices that mean they are not complying fully with the law.

The national survey commissioned by the campaign found that in Wales, 43 per cent of businesses didn’t know where all their waste goes when it leaves site.  Over a third also admitted to not being sure whether they completed or kept essential waste transfer notes, which are a key requirement. Further, many were unsure on how to correctly classify all the waste materials they handled.

Dr Emyr Roberts, Chief Executive of National Resources Wales, commented on the campaign: “The duty of care message helps us protect communities from poor environmental quality and other environmental risks. Providing businesses with the right information in order for them to meet their waste management obligations will ensure they can operate successfully without harming people and the environment.”

More information about the campaign can be found on the right Waste, right Place website.