ESA report notes wide variation in UK waste industry health and safety performance

The ESA has sought to highlight the wide variation in health and safety performance within the waste industry in a report released today (16 February).

In its report, ‘Spotlight on health and safety: Contrasting performance in the waste and recycling industry’, the ESA makes a number of recommendations on how best practice on health and safety can be shared across the industry and how disaggregated health and safety figures can help to identify which areas of the industry should be subject to targeted intervention.

The waste industry is notorious for being statistically one of the most dangerous sectors in the UK, with employees often working in close proximity to heavy machinery or on public highways where they are exposed to traffic.

An HSE report released in November last year revealing that an average of 5,000 workers in the UK waste industry have sustained injuries and 6,000 work-related illnesses every year since 2009, while there were 14 fatal injuries occurring in the sector in 2016/17. The HSE had earlier released a sector-specific plan in September to provide guidance on improving health and safety in the waste management industry.ESA report notes wide variation in UK waste industry health and safety performance

The ESA’s report seeks to highlight the wide variation in health and safety performance within the waste management industry, and notes the good performance of its members, who employ more than a third of employees in the industry, clearly keen to avoid being tarred with the same brush as the wider industry as a whole.

The report claims that since the ESA launched its Accident Reduction Charter in 2004, there has been an 86 per cent reduction in injuries related to the operations of ESA members, with a 37 per cent reduction in the two years since 2014 as members have taken a proactive approach to health and safety, exemplified by campaigns such as Biffa’s ‘Driving Recklessly on Pavements’ campaign to raise awareness of drivers mounting pavements to get past waste collection vehicles, posing a risk to waste collection operatives. The ESA also collects and compiles health and safety data from its members to provide a comprehensive assessment of the trade association’s health and safety performance.

Meanwhile, over the same two-year period that saw ESA members reduce the incidence of injuries, the industry as a whole recorded a three per cent increase in injuries.

Without disaggregated figures provided by the HSE, however, it is difficult to note this variation. While aggregated accident and injury figures are useful for comparing the waste sector’s health and safety performance with that of the UK’s other industrial sectors, it ‘proves less useful in helping to identify the actual risk profiles across the waste industry’s different activities, or to help reveal which part of the industry would benefit most from targeted intervention’, according to the report.

The report also suggests that all waste services should be bound by the same Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), with performance against these KPIs being reported on an annual basis, providing a more accurate picture of health and safety performance over an extended period of time. The ESA suggests that these indicators can be improved through a variety of measures including involving employees in health and safety decision-making, introducing feedback mechanisms, ensuring the there is support from senior management for changes and introducing a rigorous internal auditing culture.

Tackling the ‘wide variation’ in health and safety performance

Overall, the ESA’s report makes four recommendations for improving health and safety in the UK waste sector:

  1. HSE should consider disaggregating private and public sector injury statistics to allow for more meaningful comparison and for resources to be more effectively targeted on areas of greatest risk;
  2. The right KPIs should be adopted to ensure that health and safety remains at the centre of service delivery;
  3. Improve representation and engagement of all parts of the sector with the WISH Forum, a multi-party group of organisations representing the waste and recycling industry which provides easy access to waste related health and safety guidance; and
  4. HSE should consider extending its National Lead Inspector programme to include a broader range of organisations rather than just the biggest waste management companies and should share its findings more widely.

ESA’s Policy Advisor, Stephen Freeland said: “HSE’s injury statistics for the waste industry continue to make for rather sobering reading. What is perhaps less obvious from analysis of these statistics is the wide variation that exists within the waste industry, with some elements clearly performing better than others.

“ESA Members have achieved a significant reduction in injuries over recent years and our injury rate now stands at 577 (per 100,000 employees) which is three times lower than the injury rate reported by HSE for the waste industry as a whole (1,801).

“ESA’s new health and safety report aims to bring this contrasting performance to the fore and offers a number of recommendations to ensure resources are targeted, and best practice widely disseminated, to ensure that everyone in the industry is working to the same high standards.”

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