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WISH releases draft coronavirus safety advice for waste industry

The Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH) has published draft guidance on reducing the risks of Covid-19 transmission in a variety of waste management contexts.

The guidance, released by the UK’s resources and waste industry health and safety body on Friday (27 March), provides key information for the waste management sector as it grapples with the coronavirus outbreak and strives to keep waste services running as smoothly as possible.

The guidance joins other advice from the UK Government, Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on reducing the risks of Covid-19 transmission.

CoronavirusThe document is up for consultation, with comments and feedback being invited by WISH until the end of the working day on Tuesday (31 March) in order to ensure a speedy ratification of the document with the backing of the sector.

The release of the guidance is timely given concerns raised last week about the safety of waste operatives, which was designated an ‘essential industry’ by the government following calls by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), which exempts waste workers from instructions to stay at home during the outbreak unless showing symptoms of the virus.

Warning that between 15-30 per cent of companies’ workforces may be absent due to illness, the guidance states: ‘We have an unprecedented situation which requires swift guidance to the waste management industry as a key service during the current pandemic. This WISH information note is intended to provide basic advice on waste management operations, information on what to do if an employee/s develops symptoms, advice on contingency planning and similar.’

If employees develop symptoms of coronavirus then they are advised to go home and self-isolate for seven days from the commencement of symptoms. Those in direct contact with that operative should also be sent home, but not all collection crews based at the same site need go home unless they develop symptoms, though thorough cleaning of their workspace is recommended.

Good hygiene, including washing hands regularly with soap for 20 seconds and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves with nitrile gloves underneath, is essential, though face masks are not required.

The UK’s largest waste and recycling companies last week (25 March) released a joint statement calling on the public to follow government advice and help minimise the spread of the virus to waste workers. Anyone who feels ill, whether they are diagnosed with coronavirus or not, must self-isolate and place all their waste in the general rubbish bin, whether it is recyclable or not, and double-bag it, waiting for 72 hours before placing it out for collection.

Regarding social distancing, the document states that ‘obeying the two-metre rule of social distancing is difficult or impossible for personnel who must work together in the cabs of waste collection vehicles’. The guidance recommends that, while following hygiene practices should keep the risk of transmission low, ‘consideration should be given to reducing the number of persons who must share cab space where this is practicable’.

On operatives working at sites such as materials recycling facilities (MRFs) transfer stations, landfills and Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs), staff are advised to minimise face-to-face contact and ensure two-metre social distancing with other members of staff and members of the public as much as possible.

You can view the WISH guidance on the Forum’s website and the latest advice on reducing Covid-19 transmission is available on the UK Government website.

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