This website uses non-intrusive cookies to improve your user experience. You can visit our cookie privacy page for more information.

Delivering the solution together: Waste and Recycling Industry event 7 February 2013

Judith Hackitt CBE FREng, HSE Chair

Health and safety in waste and recycling: delivering the solution together

Thank you, David, (Palmer-Jones) for the introduction. I am delighted to see such a good turnout today - thank you all for making the time to attend this meeting and workshop. Your attendance here tells me that we have a shared view of the importance of health and safety in waste and recycling.

The waste and recycling industry is expanding and finding innovative ways of dealing with the many different challenges which you face. We are going to try and deploy some of that innovation here today at this event. It will be you the delegates, representing different parts of the industry, exploring together the issues and identifying possible solutions in the series of workshops later on. Those workshops are probably the most important part of today and I hope you are all ready and willing to play a full and active part. Your ideas and contribution will be critical to making steps toward improving your industry’s health and safety record.

I am, personally, very committed to ensuring my organisation, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), works fully with all parts of your industry to help improve its health and safety performance. I take a keen interest in the industry. In fact, this sector was very much in my mind only two weeks ago when I visited an open cast coal mine in Scotland but I will explain why later. Many of you will know that in January 2010 I was involved with introducing key guidance for local authorities who procure and manage waste and recycling services. And, in January 2009 I was very pleased to be involved with the launch of the WISH Forum's first formal Charter and Strategy.

June 2009 also saw the publication of 'The Strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century'. We called for everyone in the health and safety system, to work with HSE and to ‘be part of the solution’. Four years on I am sure you will all appreciate, a great deal has happened which has impacted upon the environment we operate in.

Many changes in the world of health and safety were triggered by the comprehensive spending review 2010; the Lord Young Review which culminated in the publication of Common Sense; Common Safety in October 2010; and the Ministerial announcement in March 2011 Good Health and Safety: Good for Everyone. This included the announcement of the independent review of Health and Safety by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, which has just seen the publication of a one year on progress report. Health and Safety has also been the subject of a ministerial Red Tape Challenge process.

The Strategy for GB, however, remains valid and continues to be our road map. What is changing and evolving, however, is how we go about delivering that strategy.

The findings of the various reviews, and in particular Professor Löfstedt's review, were that by and large the regulatory system remains fit for purpose. The problems with the health and safety system lie in the way that regulation is often over interpreted and applied. This is unsustainable and damaging in a number of ways which are important to us all:

In the waste and recycling sector there are some key messages that I would like to get across today. Firstly, it is important that we have a common understanding of the main health and safety issues facing the industry - so we can better tackle the problems together and have a focussed common purpose moving forward.

Secondly, it is you - the industry that needs to deliver the solutions. We must work together to respond to current challenges and to drive improvements in health and safety performance, but improving the track record is not for HSE to resolve alone - industry must take the lead.

I also want to reinforce the very important point that improved health and safety has wider business benefits. If the moral and legal arguments are not enough to gain commitment, then perhaps the bottom line will do the trick. Health and safety that is integrated into the fabric of good business practice and is not just an add-on is a valuable tool for being competitive, optimising production and achieving business excellence. It is important that we don’t overlook this during tough economic times.

So what does the current situation look like? It is fair to say that trends for the overall industry are moving in the right direction - with around 20 percent reduction in injury rates over the last eight years or so. There are variations in performance - some parts are doing exceptionally good work and helping lead the rest of the industry. One notable example is the Environmental Services Association (ESA) members who have reported a 60 percent decrease in their accident rates over the last five years (20 percent in the last year 2011/12). But if some of you can achieve a 60% decrease in five years – I would deduce from that that this is possible for the whole industry if you work harder at it.

Despite the positive trends, it’s also the case that the overall record of the waste and recycling industry compared with the general record of the rest of industry in Great Britain remains persistently poor. Five year average fatal rates for employees is 10-times above the all-industry average. And, five year average all injury and major injury rates are typically four to four and a half times the all industry average. By most figures you are twice as bad as the construction industry. Even the record of the better performers is poor in comparison to other industries – so there is no doubt that those who have made progress to date need to share their good practice but we also need some new thinking  to tackle some of the persistent problems which keep occurring.

As well as sharing good practice among yourselves I would urge you to seek out good practice in other industry sectors. I mentioned that I visited an open cast coal mine in Scotland a couple of weeks ago. In the wake of a tragic accident some four years ago which resulted in a double fatality, that industry is now in the process of installing all round 360 degree cameras on all of its large earth moving vehicles – the technology is now commonplace on many of the higher range 4-wheel drive private cars. They have identified the best technology and it works well. I rode in the cab of one of the earthmoving vehicles and the safety benefits of the camera system are enormous. They are using their collective purchasing power as a whole sector to get vehicle suppliers to install safety features as standard. It would be great to see this technology transferred onto all vehicles in the waste and recycling sector and industry sectors getting together to share knowledge and influence supply chains as well as addressing a major cause of fatalities and serious injuries.

It seems that a key feature in waste and recycling industry, and you will know this better than me, is that growth and diversification brings with it many technological and process changes - developing new innovative technologies and processes or applying known/traditional technology and processes in novel ways. Here quite clearly the challenge is to make sure that the adopted approach to health and safety continually adapts to these changes and the hazards they pose.

The characteristics and structure of the industry are a challenge too. There is a parallel here with the construction industry: a few large employers, and lots of SMEs and micro-SMEs. The industry has a unique mix of public, private and indeed third sector employers. Inevitably, within that mix, not everyone is going to be at the same level in terms of being able to manage their risks and being able to deal with the challenges.

Industry relationships are still in relative infancy/formative years compared to more traditional industries, and within the framework not everyone has the same level of engagement. Even the WISH Forum is a relatively young body compared to many other more formal Industry Advisory Committees and as such it is continuing to evolve and adapt so it can better serve the industry.

Other key health and safety challenges include ensuring adequate and effective supervision. It is particularly difficult to supervise the large percentage of the workforce that is peripatetic working in a dynamic and constantly changing environment. There are challenges associated with a significant public interface; and also with managing a high amount of "churning" in the industry in the sense of people moving in and out. The nature of the workforce - agency, temporary and migrant workers, and issues associated with literacy and numeracy – is an extra challenge to those supervising work.

Workplace health is something that can be overlooked as it’s easy to focus on tackling the obvious safety risks - but we must not forget to invest in preventing illness and disease caused by work.

Traditional areas of concern such as manual handling and noise are well known, but there is growing concern about the potential for significant occupational exposures from emerging processing and recycling activities as we move increasingly to recycling and reuse. For example, exposure to bio-aerosols and other micro-organisms, during composting and exposure to lead, mercury and other heavy metals during waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) recycling.

Waste and recycling remains one of HSE's three priority sectors together with construction and agriculture. HSE is increasing the focus on the sector by appointing a waste and recycling champion and strategy owner who will lead our work and our engagement with the industry. You will hear later today from Heather Bryant.

We have a very clear programme of work for this priority sector and we continue undertaking research so we can better understand the accident numbers, ill health rates and sector specific issues. One such piece of research is looking at supervisor competencies especially in collection activities - this is a topic dear to my heart as front line supervisors/team leaders have a vital role in delivery of health and safety programmes.

We also want to keep encouraging the development and sharing of good practice within the industry. We continue to review and simplify guidance to ensure it is easy to understand, and will help those working in the industry meet their legal requirements. The economic climate makes it even more important for us all to focus on real risks and proportionate action, not overdoing things for little or no benefit. I do want to be very clear though – we are providing guidance that is simple and easier to navigate, we are not lowering standards and reducing levels of protection. Proactive inspections of waste and recycling companies will also continue.

Our efforts are focussed on three key areas:

Our engagement with the industry and industry stakeholders is crucial. I'd like to take this opportunity to recognise the work of the WISH Forum - in demonstrating leadership. We see the WISH Forum and its members as extremely important in taking forward the issues within the industry and delivering solutions. You have my commitment that HSE will continue to support the Forum. I am also pleased that WISH has undertaken a review and moved towards restructuring to encourage a broader, more inclusive membership from across the industry and from all parts of GB.

So, what next? I encourage you to demonstrate your commitment to delivering the sector strategy by registering your "statement of intent" on HSE's website. If you are not already a member, pleaseconsider joining the WISH Forum or relevant trade body. Even if you are notpart of the WISH Forum or trade body you can still contribute. Why not share your individual workplace health and safety initiatives by submitting a case study via the HSE website? Unashamedly seek out and copy best practice in other industry sectors and work with them to drive improvements in equipment supplied. The more we share examples of best practice the higher the standard gets.

So we all have a role to play - as individuals we must strive to show others that health and safety is not a barrier to getting things done. When focussed on real risk and applied in a sensible and proportionate way, it leads to fewer work-related injuries, deaths or cases of ill-health. Health and safety goes hand-in-hand with sustainable growth. What really matters is more people in work and more people going home safe at the end of every working day.

This is an exciting, diverse and vibrant industry. Let’s keep working together to make it one that people aspire to be a part of, not only because it is exciting, diverse and vibrant, but also because the companies that make up the industry are healthy and safe places to work.

Updated 2013-02-12