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Waste sector one of the most dangerous in the UK, says HSE

The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published yesterday (30 October) have reaffirmed the waste industry as one of the most dangerous in the UK, revealing 4.5 per cent of workers suffered from work-related ill health in 2018/19.

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This year’s report highlighted that 6,000 waste industry workers were reported to suffer from work-related ill-health in 2018/19, equating to 4.5 per cent per 100,000 workers – significantly above the all industry average of 3.1 per cent.

Of those suffering from ill health, three quarters were reported to be suffering from either musculoskeletal disorders, or stress, depression or anxiety. 

In addition, 3.4 per cent of all workers in the waste industry sustained a non-fatal workplace injury, significantly higher than the rate for workers across all industries, which comes in at 1.8 per cent.

The number of employer-reported non-fatal injuries recorded under the ‘Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences’ (RIDDOR) regulations was 1,724, with 75 per cent of these resulting in seven-day or more absences. These figures are likely to be even higher in reality, as non-fatal injuries are substantially under-reported, especially amongst the self-employed.

Fatal injury

Meanwhile, the sector’s fatal injury rate is 17 times higher than the average across other industries. According to the annual statistics, seven fatal injuries occurred in the waste sector in 2018/19, of which 30 per cent were caused by contact with moving machinery and 28 per cent by moving vehicles.

The waste industry therefore has the second highest rate of fatal injuries, following agriculture, forestry and fishing. This year’s number of fatal injuries was relatively similar to the sector’s average number of nine fatalities annually over the last five years, though lower than last year’s 12 deaths. 14 workers died in the waste sector in 2016/17, with five deaths occurring at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling’s plant in Birmingham in July 2016.

Enforcement

In 2018/19, 346 notices were issued by HSE inspectors, of which 269 were improvement notices and 77 prohibition notices.

20 prosecution cases were brought by the HSE, or the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in Scotland, with all 20 resulting in guilty verdicts. The resulting fines totalled around £2.8 million.

Commenting on the figures, Pat Jennings, Head of Policy, Knowledge and External Affairs at the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM), said: "Despite significant efforts by many companies in the sector, and organisations including CIWM, ESA and the WISH Forum, to improve the sector's health and safety performance, the latest HSE statistics are still cause for concern.

"With 4.5 per cent of workers suffering from work-related illnesses and a rate of fatal injury around 17 times the average rate across all industries, it is clear that the sector has more to do to improve its health and safety culture and put in place more effective procedures, particularly around moving machinery and vehicles.

"CIWM will be refreshing its 'This time its personal' health and safety campaign at the beginning of 2020 and will be focusing on the three priorities identified by the HSE as part of its recently announced programme of inspections: reducing the number of people being struck by moving vehicles, reducing the number of workers being caught in moving machinery and reducing the number of ill-health cases."

Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), said: "The annual release of HSE injury statistics yet again makes for rather sobering reading, with seven fatalities in our sector last year and an injury rate far higher than the all-industry average. Frankly, one fatality is one too many and seven is completely unacceptable.

"Ours is an incredibly diverse industry with a host of different players across the private, public and third sector engaged in a range of different waste management activities, each with varying risk profiles. However, it is of course clearly not acceptable that anyone should be harmed through the industry's activities and the ESA continues to work closely with HSE and others to help bring about the necessary change.

"What is perhaps less evident from HSE statistics is that performance across the sector varies, and ESA remains concerned that improvements achieved by its members are simply not being replicated by others. ESA's injury rate has consistently remained lower than that reported by HSE, and the 21 per cent reduction in RIDDOR injuries achieved in 2018 is in stark constrast to the one per cent reduction reported by HSE for the sector as a whole.

"ESA members take health and safety incredibly seriously and wish to ensure standards are raised across the board, for the benefit of everyone in the sector. We are in the process of developing a new health and safety strategy which aims to build upon the work we have done in reducing injuries over the past decade."

Both the HSE ‘Summary statistics for Great Britain 2019’ and the breakdown of the figures for the waste sector can be viewed on the HSE website. 

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