Government

HSE sets out health and safety solutions for waste sector

A new report into health and safety in the waste sector has underlined a need for better safety management to combat the disproportionate levels of fatal injury in the industry.

Conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and part-funded by the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM), a professional body representing resources and waste management, the report draws attention to the shocking H&S statistics for the waste sector. According to the most recent figures, from the HSE’s ‘Summary statistics for Great Britain 2017’, there were 14 fatal injuries in this sector in 2016/17, while for the five years from 2012/13 to 2016/17, the rate of fatalities in the waste and recycling industry is 15 times higher than the average rate across all other industries. Given the industry only accounts for about 0.4 per cent of British employees, this is an alarming statistic.

The HSE report, published on 15 June and titled ‘Common human factors underlying worker fatalities in the waste and recycling industry’, examines a total of 18 fatal incidents across 12 small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and six larger companies, seeking to identify the human factors which have most commonly contributed to these deaths.

Four key contributing factors were identified:

  • Dangerous work environment, including poor separation between people and hazardous machinery onsite, as well as equipment being poorly-maintained and used incorrectly;
  • Inadequate safety culture and safety management systems, such as a lack of proper procedures for conducting work safely;
  • Errors by individuals due to lack of knowledge; and
  • Inadequate instructions supplied with equipment and poor risk assessments – this final point relates solely to SMEs.

Commenting on the report, CIWM Chief Executive Dr Colin Church said: “Health and safety is an ongoing priority for our sector and this welcome report will help to focus our attention on the areas where real improvement is needed.

“Many of the industry bodies and organisations with influence across the UK – including CIWM, ESA and WISH – have worked collaboratively to improve awareness and provide useful guidance and we know that many companies have also taken action to improve health and safety across their operations. However, there is still much more to do to reach the objective of ‘zero deaths’ agreed between HSE and industry stakeholders.”

The report suggests some possible actions to reduce the likelihood of fatal injuries, focusing on two priority areas – equipment factors and safety management systems. Regarding the latter, all organisations surveyed apparently had at least one issue with their safety management system, whether that was inadequate identification of risks or poor enforcement of control measures, both of which have a knock-on effect for general safety culture onsite.

Solutions to these priority problem areas have been developed, in part, using suggestions from HSE inspectors who were interviewed as part of the research process. The report states that a joint HSE and industry communications campaign could help raise awareness of legal requirements surrounding equipment and maintenance. Sharing information, guidance and best practice is also identified as a key measure to improve safety, with training at all levels, from management to equipment operators, to be built in to an effective safety management system.

As Dr Church suggested, actions to reduce the risks in the waste sector have already begun, with a sector plan for improving health and safety released by the HSE in September 2017. As part of this plan, the HSE has begun a series of ‘proactive inspections’ to review health and safety standards in the waste sector. The WISH (Waste Industry Safety and Health) Forum also launched a new website to communicate health and safety guidance to industry stakeholders. 

The report has underlined a need for better safety management
The report has underlined a need for better safety management

Building on the findings in this new HSE report is a campaign from CIWM, ‘Health and safety: this time it’s personal’, which was previewed on 15 and 16 June and will focus on encouraging CIWM members to take personal responsibility for health and safety in their role.

Dr Church stated: “Visible enforcement is important and we welcome HSE’s planned programme of proactive inspections later this year. CIWM is committed to supporting this with a behavioural change campaign to raise awareness around personal responsibility for health and safety in the workplace and embed a more robust health and safety culture across the sector.”

The full report, ‘Common human factors underlying worker fatalities in the waste and recycling industry’, can be read on the HSE website

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