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Campaigns restart to cut problem of bin-sleepers

commercial bins

When it comes to dealing with health and safety, waste management companies have to be experts. The industry is one of the most dangerous to work in, which is unsurprising given the large number of heavy machinery and vehi­cles involved in the business.

The safety of the general public is also of utmost importance. Refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) appear regularly on every street in the country – no other industry operates large specialised vehi­cles so closely to customers in the very communities they live.

It is therefore laudable when the industry gets together to highlight a public safety issue and equally disappointing when it runs silent: as has happened with the ‘People in Bins’ cam­paign.

During the past eight years, waste companies, associations and regulators have been working to reduce the inci­dents of deaths and injuries resulting from people seeking refuge in bins. Following a number of cases, most commonly in large commercial bins, Biffa and the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) teamed up with homeless charities to launch a landmark report on the issue in 2014.

We learned that, of 176 responses from organisations operating predomi­nately in the UK and Republic of Ire­land, 14% said they had experience of finding someone in a bin around once a year and 7% discovered someone every few months.

The report also found that: “Only 24% stated that they had some kind of policy for tackling this issue, with 66% stating they had no policy in place and 11% who did not know.”

Former Biffa chief executive Ian Wakelin said in the report’s foreword: “The issue of people sleeping rough is of critical importance, not only to the waste collection sector but also to the organisations that generate waste in the first place.”

The report gave the industry the impetus to launch the ‘People in Bins’ campaign. But, just as it started gaining widespread support across the sector, the trail went dead.

MRW was told in early 2017 by a Biffa representative, who was leading an industry working group, that the cam­paign was building towards the launch of its next stage. Despite repeated requests, no further information was released. The campaign was referred to in Biffa’s 2017 annual report as having involved front-end loading vehicles being fitted with CCTV cameras, driver training and checks on bins before emptying. It did not appear in Biffa’s 2018 version and media mentions dur­ing 2017 were minimal.

Tina Benfield, CIWM technical man­ager, said: “The campaign is still there but does not have a high profile because this has become accepted good practice – since the campaign people know to bang on the side of large bins to see if anyone is in it, for example.”

But there are no indications that fewer people are putting their lives in jeopardy from sleeping in bins. In fact, with Government figures showing a huge rise in rough sleeping, it is surely logical to conclude that the risk is greater than ever. And while waste firms may have raised their game in training crews to check bins, getting the message out to retailers and the general public is essential too.

B&M Waste Services decided to go it alone earlier this year and teamed up with Crisis for its ‘Refuse Not Refuge’ media campaign.

It is not just rough sleepers who are at risk – several high-profile deaths involving bin collections were the disas­trous result of a drunken night out. In the 2014 survey, of the reported inci­dents, around 16% were described as ‘revellers’, with the rest classified as ‘homeless sleepers’.

The good news is that the indus­try-wide campaign is to be reactivated. This was revealed in an article in the Guardian on rough sleepers in bins, which highlighted the 169% increase in rough sleeping since 2010, with a reporter speaking to bin men and rough sleepers about the issue.

The Health and Safety Executive told the newspaper there had been three deaths in the past two years. The Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum said there were 11 deaths between 2009/10 and 2014/15.

The Guardian also revealed that, in winter 2017-18, Veolia recorded 32 reports of people found inside their bins in the UK, up from 26 the year before, and that Biffa “discovered 175 people in its bins in 2016”.

MRW understands that Biffa is to relaunch its campaign early next year, while a new CIWM initiative is likely to start towards the end of the winter, when cold weather shelters normally close and rough sleepers are most likely to understands that Biffa is to relaunch its campaign early next year, while a new CIWM initiative is likely to start towards the end of the winter, when cold weather shelters normally close and rough sleepers are most likely to seek shelter. It is also understood that the waste industry wants to involve retailers more closely.

The industry’s campaigning is expected to concentrate on alerting retailers and managers of industrial estates to their duty to keep waste safe until it can be collected, the assumption being that, if companies take such pre­cautions, rough sleepers will be unable to access bins.

CIWM head of policy and communi­cations Pat Jennings said: “In February 2014, a report was published with the outcome of research by ourselves, Biffa and Streetlink into the issues, risks and prevention of people sleeping in waste con­tainers. We would like to review this report in the near future, and are also looking to work with key stakeholders to bring together a cross-sec­tor working group to look at this issue again.”

Jennings said the CIWM welcomed the launch of B&M’s ‘Refuse not Refuge’ campaign, including its staff training programme to remind drivers to check containers, particularly for universities, colleges and retail parks.

She also urged operators and waste producers to revisit the WISH guidance document Waste25, which outlines safety protocols to help prevent death or serious injury when people shelter inside large commercial or communal domestic bins.

Timeline: Reports and Campaigns

June 2010

The HSE and WISH launched a report, People in Commercial Waste Containers, after three bodies were found at waste depots in the previous year in bins that had been unloaded from collection vehicles. The report advised bin checks be carried out, but that “in some circumstances, the person in the bin may be intoxicated or injured – so that merely banging on the bin may be insufficient to rouse them”.

October 2011

The HSE set up talks with private sector bodies about funding for a series of adverts to warn homeless people about the dangers of sleeping in bins.

August 2013

Ways of preventing the deaths of rough sleepers in waste bins are considered by Biffa, homelessness charity Broadway and advice line StreetLink, to discuss how checks could be made before bins are cleared after a 50-year-old homeless man sleeping in a bin was killed when it was emptied.

February 2014

The CIWM, Biffa and StreetLink launch a report, Research Into The Issues, Risks And Prevention Of People Sleeping In Waste Containers. It found more than two-thirds of organisations do not have formal policies in place to prevent incidents with people sleeping in waste containers. Only 41 respondents had a system of checks in place out of the 176 organisations surveyed.

August 2015

An inquest into the death of 34-year-old Matthew Symonds, who had been sleeping in a recycling bin, concluded with a jury’s verdict of unnatural death. Symonds’ remains were found on 1 August 2014 at Biffa’s plant in Avonmouth.

September 2016

Airman Corrie McKeague, 23, is reported missing. Suffolk Constabulary investigates the possibility he was asleep in a waste container that was taken to a landfill site.

November 2016

Veolia and B&M Waste Services joined Biffa’s ‘People in Bins’ campaign. A steering group was set up with representatives of the two companies plus Veolia, the CIWM, the Environmental Services Association and the HSE. Two charities, Framework and Homeless Link, were also involved in the inaugural meeting in Birmingham.

May 2017

A Biffa spokesperson tells MRW that the campaign’s cross-sector working group was “discussing concrete actions for [the] next steps”.

October 2018

B&M goes it alone and launches its ‘Refuse not Refuge’ campaign with homelessness charity Crisis. B&M marketing manager Jayne Kennedy says the CIWM/Biffa initiative had “stopped and lost momentum”.

Police finally conclude that McKeague was likely to have died after falling asleep in a bin and taken to a Suffolk landfill site. Officers established that a Biffa bin collected from behind a branch of baker Greggs weighed 116kg, far more than what would be expected.

November 2018

Biffa says it will launch a “second major awareness campaign” in January 2019. CIWM tells MRW that the 2014 report would be reviewed and another cross-sector working group would shortly be convened.

Recent Cases

  • A pre-inquest review into the death of Russell Lane heard that he suffered a cardiac arrest during surgery after becoming trapped in a bin lorry. Lane, who was sleeping in a bin in Rochester, Kent, on 8 January, had his legs crushed. The bin crew had followed protocol to check the container. At the time of writing, a full inquest to find the cause of his death was scheduled to take place in November.
  • James McLaren, 28, was found dead at a recycling plant in Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham, on Christmas Eve 2017. An inquest heard he had previously slept in a bin when drunk. Police said they believed he had climbed into a bin.

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