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Feature: Unravelling obligations

Two waste management companies were recently fined £140,000 following a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an employee was crushed to death while using a telescopic truck. The investigation by the HSE found that the employee was not trained to operate the truck and that a risk assessment, adequate supervision and suitable training had not been provided. In addition to the fine, the companies involved were ordered to pay the HSE's costs of almost £30,000.

This case illustrates both the human tragedy and the financial consequences that can arise when there are failures in an employer's health and safety practices, and is only one of a high number of fatal incidents in the waste and recycling industry.

In order to address the increasing number of fatalities and serious accidents that occur during the collecting and processing of municipal waste and recycling activities, in March this year the HSE launched a three-year initiative. It involves visits to private companies and local authorities that manage their own or contract out waste and/or recycling services.

Inspectors will focus on the management of health and safety, including the design, specification and management of contracts, workplace transport, manual handling and employee welfare. The initiative will be supported by a programme of advisory seminars to local authorities, which will provide help in contract design and the management of contracts and contractors.

The HSE website [] also contains a checklist setting out the framework for effective planning, organisation, monitoring and control of activities, and which also includes a review of protective and preventive measures to safeguard the health and safety of employees and others in the workplace and on worksites. The checklist is a useful way for employers to compare and evaluate their own internal management control systems, irrespective of whether they are inspected by the HSE.


An employer's obligation to make reasonable adjustments will potentially conflict with minimum health and safety obligations. Employers should, however, be careful to avoid rejecting disabled candidates on the basis of untested assumptions about potential health and safety risks. Reliance on stereotypical assumptions about the abilities of disabled people, or a failure to fully investigate all adjustments that can be made to facilitate the disabled person's employment, can give rise to potentially expensive claims under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA).

Previously, under the DDA, employers were under a duty to make reasonable adjustments where any arrangements made by or on behalf of the employer or physical features of premises occupied by the employer placed a disabled person at a disadvantage in comparison with a non-disabled person.

As from October 2004, the duty to make reasonable adjustments has been extended beyond 'arrangements' to cover 'provision criterion or practice'. This broadens the scope of this duty and will cover matters such as arrangements for recruitment, promotion, transfer and working conditions, which will often encroach into areas of health and safety.


The conflicting duties of an employer under Health and Safety and DDA legislation were illustrated in a recent decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal. In this case, an employee working in a warehouse suffered from a disability (psoriasis), which meant that he could not wear certain types of footwear. He was advised he would no longer be allowed to continue

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