There has been a sustained focus across the industry for a number of years to improve safety.
The number of accidents has been falling during the past few years, with the rate of both fatal injuries and reported major/specified injuries much lower in 2014-15 than in 2012-13, according to the Health & Safety Executive.
But there is still a way to go, which makes a focus on training and education throughout the operational hierarchy key, no matter the skill level of the job in hand.
It is important that companies develop strategies to help staff understand the risks associated with their working environment and to ensure their safety and that of their colleagues.
Training and increased education play a vital part in this, but having a large multilingual workforce brings an added dimension. Take our own workers as an example. Across the 140-strong team at O’Donovan, there are currently nine nationalities and for most, English is not their primary language.
As employers, we must be confident that those with English as a second language are able to fully grasp the importance of the messages being conveyed.
The significance of training and education to any business should not be underestimated. But on the picking line, for example, where training is not commonplace, improved knowledge can make an important effect on the bottom line. Traditionally the only training a picker would receive is a short induction process on how to do the job, as well as the health and safety and operations aspects of the role – all of which could take just a few hours.
Training not only improves safety, it also improves profitability, with pickers adding massive value by knowing the waste streams and being able to improve recovery rates and quality of the material.
In the past year, we have put 60 members of the team through NVQ Level 2 and 3 Waste Management Industry Training & Advisory Board (Wamitab) training courses. Given the cultural mix of the team we ran the courses in a multilingual format, which meant we could be confident that the important messages were fully appreciated and not lost or lessened in translation.
Not only did these courses provide staff with the most up to date training so they were able to safely undertake the removal of all wastes in a safe manner, they also focused on maintaining the highest quality of material.
As a result, we have seen greater staff knowledge of waste streams, which has resulted in improved material quality and makes us more productive and sustainable as a business.
The investment by O’Donovan was the largest ever seen by Wamitab from an SME. It allowed those who would not normally be given formal training to upskill, something we see as a cornerstone of the business. Offering training to the team was an opportunity to upskill the workforce. Waste picking and disposal is traditionally a low skill job, but there is no reason for it to remain as such.
Health and safety is more than just a box to tick. It affects people’s lives and is vital to the efficient running of a business. During the past few years, accident rates have been falling but there is still a lot more to be done. Training may be a large investment for a company but it has proved invaluable on many levels, and I look forward to seeing other waste disposal businesses embrace its potential.
Jacqueline O’Donovan is managing director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal