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New figures show 11,000 waste sector workers report work-related injury or illness every year

An average of 5,000 workers in the UK waste industry have sustained injuries and 6,000 work-related illnesses every year since 2009, according to the latest report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with 14 fatal injuries occurring in the sector in 2016/17.

Health and Safety Executive outlines plan to improve waste and recycling sector safety
The waste and recycling sector still ranks as one of the most dangerous sectors in the UK
The figures for the waste sector, which employs some 120,000 workers, come in light of the HSE’s new ‘Summary statistics for Great Britain’, released today (1 November), which show 137 workers died across all industries, while 600,000 workers sustained non-fatal injuries and 1.3 million workers experienced work-related illnesses, both resulting in 31.2 million lost working days in 2016/17.

The waste industry in particular continues to be one of the most dangerous sectors in the UK, with the second highest rate of fatal injuries among sectors over the past five years and one of the highest rates for non-fatal injuries and illnesses. In an attempt to improve these figures, the HSE unveiled a sector plan for improving health and safety in the waste sector back in September.

Commenting on the waste sector statistics, Rick Brunt, Head of Vulnerable Workers, Agriculture, Waste and Recycling Unit at HSE, said: “The waste and recycling sector continues to have a high rate of workplace injury and ill health and it is a priority area for HSE. We will use a combination of our direct regulation of the industry and working in collaboration with other organisations to bring about significant and sustained improvement in this performance.

“The industry needs to maintain and increase its activities to ensure effective leadership to embed the ownership of risks and implementation of solutions that is necessary if we are to see a reduction in death and ill-health in this sector.”

Fatal injuries to workers in the Waste sector by accident kind, last five years
Fatal injuries

Reported provisionally in July, the HSE’s breakdown for the waste sector shows 14 workers died in the waste sector in 2016/17, more than double the six deaths that occurred the previous year, according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS). The rise can be partially explained by the five deaths that occurred at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling’s plant in Birmingham in July 2016 after a partitioning wall collapsed, crushing the workers under tonnes of scrap metal and concrete.

In the past five years, 39 fatal injuries to workers have occurred, with the three most common reasons listed as being struck by a moving vehicle (nine), contact with machinery (seven) and being struck by an object (six). Over the same time period, 11 fatal injuries to members of the public occurred, contact with machinery (five) being the most common cause.

Waste has the second highest rate of fatal injuries to workers over the past five years, with 6.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers, ahead of agriculture, forestry and fishing (8.44 fatalities) and some way behind construction (1.82 fatalities). The average across all industries is 0.46 fatalities.

Non-fatal injuries

On average, 5,000 workers a year sustain a non-fatal injury at work in the waste sector, with over half of these cases resulting in an absence of more than three days from work.

Between 2010/11 and 2016/17, around four per cent of workers in the UK waste sector suffered non-fatal injuries, higher than the average rate for workers across all industries (1.9 per cent). The rate for the waste sector is similar to that of the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector, which comes in at 4.1 per cent over the same time period.

Comparison of the rate of all self-reported work-related injury (per 100,000 workers) in the Waste sector with selected industries
In terms of employer-reported non-fatal injuries recorded under the ‘Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences’ (RIDDOR) regulations, 1,859 were reported in 2016/17, with 77 per cent of injuries resulting in seven-day or more absences. However, RIDDOR statistics must be interpreted with care due to the chronic under-reporting of injuries, especially amongst the self-employed.

Work-related illness

Between 2009/10 and 2016/17, an average of 6,000 workers a year self-report work-related illnesses in the waste sector, with around 80 per cent suffering from musculoskeletal disorders or stress, depression or anxiety, while remaining workers suffered from skin conditions (33 cases recorded between 1996 and 2016 by the dermatologist-led surveillance scheme THOR-EPIDERM) or respiratory conditions (31 cases recorded between 1996 and 2016 by chest physician-led surveillance scheme THOR-SWORD).

Around 4.8 per cent of workers in the UK waste sector report a work-related illness, some way above the average rate for workers across all industries, with human health and social work activities (4.6 per cent) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (4.1 per cent) the nearest comparable sectors.

Enforcement

In 2016/17, 373 notices were issued by HSE inspectors, of which 270 were improvement notices and 103 were prohibition notices. This represents a slight increase on the 345 notices issued in 2015/16.

21 cases were brought to prosecution, or referred to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in Scotland with a view to prosecution, of which 20 resulted in guilty verdicts. Fines following these prosecutions totalled £3.4 million - double those of 2015/16, although this is the first year new sentencing guidelines have been in effect.

Action

In response to the latest statistics, Stephen Freeland, the Environmental Services Association’s (ESA) Health and Safety Policy Advisor, said: “For too long now, the waste management industry has continued to lag behind other sectors and with little indication that the overall safety record for the industry as a whole is showing any sign of meaningful improvement.

“For ESA these statistics are rather disappointing and don’t seem to reflect progress we’ve been making in recent years. In fact, our forward thinking approach to health and safety has seen ESA Members reduce injuries by 37 per cent over the two years since 2014.

“It is nonetheless clear that the industry as a whole has much to do to reverse the trend identified in HSE’s statistics, and for its part ESA will continue to ensure best practice and ‘lessons learnt’ are disseminated more widely across the industry for the benefit of all. To accompany HSE’s press release, ESA has prepared a briefing explaining its approach to health and safety and the progress achieved in recent years.”

The HSE released its sector plan for improving health and safety in the waste sector back in September, within which it identified as priorities reducing fatal injuries from moving vehicles and musculoskeletal disorders and lung disease among employees, although no mention was made of efforts to tackle stress, depression and anxiety.

It is hoped that advances in health and safety can be achieved through better sharing of information with other regulators and local authorities, increased inspection and enforcement activities on the risks posed by moving vehicles, and encouraging further engagement with the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum, set up to provide easy access to waste-related health and safety guidance.

The plan was welcomed by the waste industry, with Dr Colin Church, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), commenting: “Improving the industry’s health and safety record is one of CIWM’s top priorities and we are keen to support the priority actions outlined today by the HSE for the waste and recycling sector.

“In addition to hosting the new WISH website, launched earlier this year to provide a one-stop-shop for all WISH guidance, CIWM is working on a number of fronts to change behaviour, improve performance, and share good practice across the sector, including an initiative in 2018 to raise awareness around personal responsibility for health and safety in the workplace.”

Both the HSE ‘Summary statistics for Great Britain 2017’ and the breakdown of the figures for the waste sector can be viewed on the HSE website.

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