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An opportunity not to be wasted

Waste and recycling is an industry sector which feels familiar to us all. Every household generates waste which we put into a variety of multicolour bins. We rely on our local binmen appearing every week or so to take away our rubbish and materials for recycling, whatever the weather. Any blip or change to the service creates big debate among communities.

But there are some aspects of the waste and recycling industry which many of us take for granted or are simply unaware of. The sector is experiencing a level of growth that many other sectors would love to see return to their businesses. But the industry also has a persistently poor record on health and safety. Over the 7 year period from 2004/5 to 2011/12 HSE received reports of almost 120 fatal injuries (some of whom were members of the public) and close to 4,000 major injuries to workers in the waste and recycling sector. Fatal injury rates for employees are 10 times higher than the all industry average.

The sector does know it has to tackle its poor health and safety performance and is already moving things in the right direction. Injury rates have fallen by around 20% in the last eight years, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. Last month I spoke at an industry event aimed at finding ways of doing just that by sharing good practice and pooling ideas on what more could be done to reduce levels of injury occurring in the sector without in any way impeding the industry's rate of growth and expansion.

It was good to see employers, workers and the whole waste and recycling supply chain coming together to share ideas and commit to tackling the issues. There's no doubt that the solution needs to come from the industry and be appropriate for the sector, but that doesn't mean starting everything from scratch. There is much which can be learned from others.

I recently visited an open cast coal mine to see for myself the benefits of 360° cameras fitted on all of their large vehicles. The open cast industry took the action to install cameras following a serious fatal accident. The technology is not expensive, and it's already fitted as standard on some private cars. If these camera systems were fitted on all waste collection vehicles would it reduce the number of serious and sometimes fatal accidents involving employees and members of the public? It's got to be worthy of consideration - even if it is an idea recycled from elsewhere.

Waste and recycling is important to all of us, it's a sector which is growing and enjoying economic success. It has the opportunity to be even more successful if it can improve its safety performance - and that's an opportunity that must not be wasted.