Good progress has been made in health and safety (H&S) standards in the waste and recycling industry, according to research from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). However, there is still more to do.
Referring to past research, such as the RR240 Mapping H&S Standards in the UK Waste Industry conducted in 2000 and published in 2004, HSE principal inspector Paul Harvey explains: RR240 found that the waste and recycling industry had an appalling accident record. It was four to five times above the national average. The fatal accident rate was 10 times the national average.
But in 2005/06 and 2006/07 HSE inspectors found a year on year improvement in performance when they examined hundreds of street collections. It said that local authorities (LAs) and organisations demonstrated an enhanced ability to manage operational H&S.
Overall the results from this large number of inspections are very encouraging, there has been a significant improvement over a very short period of time, says Harvey.
High levels of equipment provision have been achieved, with closed circuit television, mirrors, lights and warning beacons found on almost all vehicles that needed them. The same standard applied to access to high visibility clothing and first aid items.
The industry has done a lot of work to get the hardwear right, there is a good uptake of the safe systems of work that have been promoted by the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum, Harvey explains.
However, adequate handwashing facilities were only provided in just over 50% of vehicles. But Harvey explains that improving this would be as simple as putting in more flip down basins on lorries. He said: This advice is in one of the guidances and the industry is working towards it.
During the two year inspection period, it was found that organisations had increasingly adopted standards at the forefront of industry debate. Such standards have been developed by the WISH Forum in agreement with industry stakeholders.
One such issue is the use of reversing assistants, which the research found had increased by 20% over the two year period. Other improvements included a similar increase in the number of rounds adopting single side collection and an improvement in collection workers understanding of safe manual handling techniques.
Harvey explains: As an organisation WISH is relatively new, it has drafted the majority of its standards in the past three years. Industry is gradually adopting more topical standards, we are getting there.
The requirement under law is that organisations should do what is reasonable and practicable. If a H&S practice is this, you should be doing it. Its all designed to achieve a standard of safety. Its about risk control; there is no gold plating in the WISH documents.
Areas with the least improvement included planning, management and supervision. LA clients were found to be not good at assessing the risks of various collection techniques before contracts were put out to tender. Inspectors also found that at this pre-contract stage fewer than one in five LA clients ensured contractor H&S competency before awarding a deal.
When a contract has started, supervisors have a key role in managing H&S and inspectors found a lot of evidence that they were aware of this role. More positively, there had been an increase in LA client monitoring of contractor H&S throughout the life of the contract.
Harvey commented: There are early signs that the organisational and management issues such as planning and supervision are improving.
HSE offers the information for councils to make the right decision for them. Were not advocating one answer; its about picking the appropriate solution for your circumstances.
With regard to the supervisors key role, each organisation has to set up a system to manage H&S. Everyone in the management chain has to take some responsibility and so support is present throughout the chain. We advocate a top down management approach to make sure what should happen does happen.
He concluded: The foundations are now in place for accident reduction, the industry has the right equipment, it now has drawn up many of the safe systems of work and it knows what it should be doing. To reduce accidents every person in the industry, from directors to collection workers need to create a culture in their organisation in which it is the norm to take the right actions and behaviours that reduce the risk of harm to themselves and others.
For more information visit the HSE website at: www.hse.gov.uk/waste