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Stephen Freedland: There needs to be a partnership approach to health and safety

But what is less well known is that this change brings new challenges for health and safety to a sector which historically has not had the best record. The move away from landfill is making the sector more labour intensive which means that employees are working with a wide range of heavy vehicles and machinery.

As the voice of the private sector waste industry, the ESA has for many years been absolutely determined that heath and safety is the first priority for its member companies. In 2004, ESA’s Members agreed with HSE an Accident Reduction Charter, which aimed to reduce the incidence rate of RIDDOR reportable accidents by 10% every year. ESA’s commitment to the Charter was strengthened in 2006 with the launch of a sectoral Health and Safety Strategy, setting out the industry’s health and safety goals and the activities required to meet these goals within a clear timetable.

ESA’s health and safety committee was established as the primary forum for delivering improvements in health and safety, and with progress closely monitored by ESA’s Board.

Since the launch of our Charter, ESA’s Members have reduced accidents by almost 70% and the Charter has since been revised to include further year on year accident reduction targets until 2013.

While we realise we have further to go, ESA’s Members have nonetheless been moving in the right direction over recent years. However, this trend does not appear to be mirrored across the waste sector as a whole, with official HSE statistics showing an increase in accidents between 2010 and 2011.

These aggregate HSE statistics cover local authority and third sector waste operations, and private companies including those not in the ESA membership. We want to see HSE publishing a more accurate breakdown of its accident data, thereby enabling problem ‘hotspots’ in the waste sector to be identified and resources focussed accordingly.

Health and safety must also form an integral component at all levels of Government decision making, including full consideration of the practical implementation of its recycling policies and strategies. New legislative requirements, for example, aim to promote the separate collection of recyclable materials, including glass. However, the separate collection of glass can present its own, unique health and safety challenges, with recently published research showing that noise generated during collection activities has the potential to exceed statutory safety limits.

This acutely demonstrates the need for a partnership approach to improving health and safety, in which local authorities must be recognised as playing a pivotal role. Local authorities’ contracts can often specify the equipment required to be procured by the waste management contractor upon award of the contract. Local government must therefore work with industry, and others, to ensure the specification of equipment chosen to fulfil a contract has been scrutinised with the health and safety of the contractor’s workforce and the wider community in mind. Health and safety must therefore be designed into procurement, with local authority budgets and procurement methods also prioritising health and safety.

Our industry is well placed to contribute to the Government’s green growth agenda – but green jobs should also be safe jobs. Going forward, as more value is recovered from waste the industry expects to handle and process ever increasing volumes and variety of different materials. A key challenge will be to understand and control the emerging health and safety risks associated with new technology.

ESA will continue to play its part in improving health and safety and aims to promote best practice. Efforts to deliver a more integrated approach will be provided, in part, by the WISH Forum – a committee formed of representatives from the waste management sector - which with HSE and others produces industry good practice and health and safety guidance. ESA supports the launch in 2013 of a new, streamlined WISH Forum and will continue to promote, and contribute to the delivery of its strategic objectives.

Stephen Freeland, Health & Safety Policy Advisor, ESA

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