Waste and recycling fatalities 16 times higher than average

The latest figures for fatal injuries at work reveal that the waste industry remains one of the most dangerous sectors to work in, with 16 times more fatalities in 2017/18 than the average across all industries.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the national regulatory body for workplace health and safety, has released the provisional fatal injury statistics for 2017/18, showing that there were 12 deaths in the waste sector in 2017/18, two less than in 2016/17 when 14 workers were killed.

Waste and recycling fatalities 16 times higher than industry average
The breakdown of fatalities by industry for 2017/18

When comparing the absolute count of fatalities by industry, the waste and recycling sector has reported far fewer deaths than construction, which saw 38 deaths in 2017/18. However, more revealing is the figure for deaths per 100,000 workers, which puts waste firmly in the ‘most dangerous’ spot with 10.26 deaths per 100,000 workers compared to the construction industry’s 1.64 deaths.

The worrying fatality rate in the waste and recycling industry is 16 times higher than the average across all industries. The most common cause of fatal injury in all industries was falling from a height, followed by being struck by a vehicle – a high risk for the waste sector, which sees workers regularly operating in environments with heavy machinery and moving vehicles.

Overall, 144 workers were killed across all industries in 2017/18, an increase of around 5 per cent on the previous year. The average number of annual deaths over the past five years is 141, meaning the figure has remained fairly level after a long term downward trend.

Waste and recycling fatalities 16 times higher than industry average
The reduction in fatalities from 07/08 to 17/18 has levelled out in recent years

While the UK consistently has one of the lowest rates of fatal injury in the European Union, at 0.51 deaths per 100,000 workers – compared to 3.62 in France, the second highest offender – HSE Chair Martin Temple said the data for this year is still “a source of concern.”

In the waste and recycling sector, there is much that needs to be done to achieve the ‘zero deaths’ objective agreed upon by HSE and industry stakeholders in the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum, which develops guidance and activities to promote health and safety in the workplace.

Need for a 'refreshed' approach

Dr Colin Church, Chair of the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM), told Resource that while there is “significant annual fluctuation” in fatality rates, the apparent plateauing of performance “is a sign that we all need to refresh our approach to ensure continuous improvement in the sector.”

HSE published a report in June, in partnership with CIWM, which sets out the four key factors contributing to worker deaths in the waste industry. Surveying a number of businesses in the industry, the report states that all organisations had at least one issue with their safety management systems, such as inadequate identification of risks and poor enforcement of control measures.

A new campaign from CIWM will aim to tackle these priority issues while focusing on how individuals can take personal responsibility for improving health and safety at work. “Part of the campaign will involve highlighting methods of good or best practice and encouraging others to use good examples, or indeed to benchmark themselves against good performers,” Church explained. “CIWM will raise questions regarding workforce engagement and awareness of supervisor responsibility to ensure individuals know what is expected of them”.

In February, the ESA produced a report highlighting what it called 'wide variation' in health and safety performance in the waste industry. Responding to these latest figures, ESA Policy Executive Stephen Freeland stated: "As acknowledged by HSE in its report, the relatively small number of fatal incidents means that the statistics are subject to variation between reporting years making it difficult to identify overall trends. That said, each fatality is of course a personal tragedy and it is clear that ESA and the waste industry as a whole still has some way to go to achieving zero harm.

"A number of these fatalities are associated with waste collection activities and workplace transport, and through organisations such as WISH, ESA has been actively involved in the development of guidance to help eliminate or reduce risk. The challenge is to extend the reach of this guidance to help ensure that good practice is shared as widely as possible and that the industry as a whole is working to the same high standards in health and safety. Improvements in health and safety culture and behavioural safety would undoubtedly help this process."

HSE’s 2017/18 statistics for workplace fatal injuries can be read in full on the HSE website.