WISH finalises Covid-19 waste safety guidance

The Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum has published its finalised guidance on reducing the risk of Covid-19 in the waste management sector.

Released yesterday (2 April), the document covers a range of waste management contexts, including vehicles and collections operations, materials recycling facilities (MRFs), Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) and landfills.

It sits alongside separate Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Public Health England (PHE) advice, and was compiled with input from these bodies.

WISH Forum Covid-19 adviceWISH released draft guidance last Friday (27 March), which was put out for consultation until 31 March and attracted more than 50 replies from industry stakeholders before being published in a quick turnaround.

Chair of WISH Chris Jones said: “WISH recognises the urgency of the need of the industry for information about how to deal with the risks associated with Covid-19 and wants to do what it can to help.

“Hence we have done our best to produce, as quickly as possible, information to summarise what good practice looks like in the industry on this important issue.”

Acknowledging that the document was prepared “in great haste”, Jones added that this document is only a first issue and will be updated as needed.

The document acknowledges that government rules on social distancing – keeping at least two metres away from other people – ‘may pose issues for some waste management activities’ and recommends precautions such as ‘staggering shift changeovers, not requiring drivers to collect lorry keys in person, staggering use of welfare facilities and similar’.

With regard to waste collection operations, the advice says that measures that are ‘reasonably practical’ should be taken to limit transmission, taking into consideration whether a waste service can be temporarily suspended or reduced, whether green waste or bulky household collections can be suspended, or whether a single-person operation can be carried out (though this is unlikely to be practicable for household collections).

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should also be used, especially gloves, though it is not necessary to wear face masks unless that waste management activity usually requires respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

The advice also places emphasis on hygiene precautions, and advices waste operatives to use tissues when sneezing or coughing and throw these in the bin immediately, wash their hands regularly with soap and water and to regularly clean surfaces and contact points.

This should be extended to work places, with soap and water, alcohol sprays, normal cleaning agents or disinfectant being made available to clean down surfaces and dry dusting being replaced by damp dusting.

Within waste collection vehicles, specific attention should be paid to door handles, hand holds/rails, dashboards, steering wheels, hand-brake levers, gearbox and other controls, with a thorough clean carried out periodically throughout the day, especially at the end of a shift.

‘Guiding principles’

Responding to the guidance, the Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) Jacob Hayler expressed the support of his organisation for the guidance, saying: “We are grateful to WISH for producing this document in consultation with public health experts and industry health and safety professionals, and the ESA fully supports it as a set of guiding principles for operators.

“The guidance, which has been developed with advice from Public Health England and UK Government, is clear that waste services can be safely maintained as long as businesses and operatives follow, rigorously, good hygiene standards and have the necessary facilities available to do this. It is vital that operatives and managers maintain a regular and open dialogue, and that any team member who feels unwell with suspected Covid-19 goes home immediately or does not come in to work.”

Expressing support for the guidance’s recommendations on social distancing and face masks, Hayler also urged residents not to visit HWRCs, many of which have closed, as it is “not essential travel”.

He concluded:  “Our sector is well-versed at keeping its employees safe in respect of workplace hygiene, but it is now more important than ever that frontline recycling and waste workers follow the instructions provided by their respective employers and take note of the guidance provided by WISH. On behalf of the ESA, I would like to sincerely thank all recycling and waste operatives and support staff for continuing to provide such a vital public service in this time of national crisis.”

You can view the finalised WISH guidance on the Forum’s website.

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