The head of the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) waste group has said it is a “matter of time” before another fatality occurs at a private waste and recycling site.
Jim King said he was “appalled” by a series of incidents at waste and recycling firms over the past six months, which include a fatality.
Several other people have been seriously injured, including cases of lost limbs and severe burns.
The Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum for Northern Ireland (WISHNI), which includes representatives from professional associations, recycling organisations and national and local government bodies, recently held an industry forum attended by environment minister Mark H Durkan.
King said: “Despite the ongoing work of WISHNI and HSENI, it appears that some employers simply don’t care about either their employees or about their organisation’s reputation.
“And, sadly, recent evidence gathered by HSENI inspectors suggests that it is only a matter of time before there is yet another fatality on a private waste and recycling operator’s site, unless the management of safety on a number of these sites improves dramatically.”
King added that any employee death would be investigated by the HSENI and police.
“The starting point of any such investigation will be around whether there is a case for corporate or gross negligence manslaughter,” he said.
“Your business will be stopped until the investigation is sure that the risk to employees has been dealt with. In addition, other charges may also be brought under health and safety law.”
In the wake of the WISHNI forum, Durkan called on the waste sector to prioritise health and safety.
He said: “There are vital steps which can and must be taken by those responsible for health and safety at waste facilities to ensure that we never have a repeat of the tragic and avoidable incidents that claimed the lives of David Layland at a landfill site in Mallusk in August 2008 and Alan Devenny at a Coleraine recycling centre in July 2011.
“We must never forget that there are real risks for those who work within this sector and it must make every effort to ensure a safer working environment for them.
“I therefore fully support the work of WISHNI for its ongoing commitment to identifying, devising and promoting best practice to improve industry health and safety standards.”
In March WISHNI launched the Ambassador Awards Programme to recognise health and safety excellence and best practice in waste management.
In October the textile recycling company All-Tex Recyclers near Ballymena was temporarily closed by HSENI over safety concerns.