Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) and Scottish Waste Industry Training, Competency, Health & Safety (SWITCH) Strategy meeting - 1 March 2017

Martin Temple CBE, HSE Chair

Good Morning.

For those of you who attended the last Summit in November 2014 and those before it, I am delighted as the new chair of HSE to support the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH) and its work to improve health and safety across the Waste & Recycling industry, just like my predecessor Dame Judith Hackett.

The turnout today from across the industry – a mix of both public and private sector, employers, regulators and trade associations visibly demonstrates that we have a common agenda – a wish – if you will pardon the pun - to make this industry a great place to work.

Today is an opportunity for you to appreciate the outcomes of your work from the previous summits and to help form the next steps for improving standards in this industry.

In Great Britain the waste and recycling sector presents a broad range of safety and health risks not just to workers, but also risks to the public from domestic collection activities and municipal waste sites. Our location here today in Glasgow serves as a reminder of the tragic events of 22 December 2014, when six members of the public were fatally struck by a bin lorry and fifteen more people injured.

We use Statistics to demonstrate how industries compare and HSE Statistics (using the Labour Force Survey and Riddor) show that in waste and recycling…

And in the five years to 2015/16 there were 12 fatalities to members of the public as a result of work activity in the sector. Interestingly these do not include those in the George Square incident as those figures get classed as Road Traffic accidents.

The causes of death and injury are not new, typically the precautions necessary to control the risks are well known, and the main focus of improving the industry's safety performance is likely to lie in improving Health and Safety management, monitoring and supervision.

I was pleased that the Scottish Waste Industry Training, Competency, Health & Safety Forum (SWITCH) and WISH received acknowledgement for their work in this area in the Help GB Work well commitments publication.  SWITCH has developed and published a competency framework and the WISH working groups are building upon this looking closely at Supervisor competence and a very useful practical tool for monitoring health and safety – more of that later from the working groups.

The ill health problems represent a different sort of challenge compared with the safety performance. The diverse range of collection and sorting activities, and the insufficient data on some of the health risks, mean that a broader evidence base will be needed to enable these issues to be tackled.

Trends in industry practice for collection and separation of recycling, particularly glass, are also likely to add noise induced hearing loss to the list of known health challenges, while emerging risks such as exposure to bio-aerosols may add to the risks of occupational lung disease and move these higher up the industry priority list.   All areas that WISH working groups are already tackling.

Despite the dismaying industry statistics, Environmental Services Association (ESA) Members are working hard to improve health and safety performance and are committed to targets in ESA's Accident Reduction Charter to reduce RIDDOR reportable injuries by 10% each year. ESA reports that its Members have reduced injuries by 85% since the launch of the Charter in 2004.

ESA has previously voiced concern that while its Members (approx. a third of the sector) have achieved significant year on year reductions in injuries, the injury rate for the sector as a whole remains stubbornly high.  This indicates that further action is needed to address the performance of the remaining 'two-thirds' of the sector.

Again it is pleasing that the work of ESA was also recognised as a Help GB work well published commitment.

But we must not forget the small employer, those not represented by trade associations and not necessarily here today.  Together we need to reach them if we are to improve health and safety across the whole industry

So what are we in HSE doing …?

Since becoming Chair of HSE I have met with the Chartered Institute of Waste Management (CIWM), ESA and the EA and I hope my presence here today demonstrates the support I have for the work of WISH and its members.

I've also had first-hand experience of some aspects of the issues faced in the industry from my time working with scrap metal merchants during my career. Our company needed to purchase scrap for melting down to make stainless steel. There were some risks faced then in that environment – not by me personally or those in my company I hasten to add – but risks that I witnessed many many miles east of here, that required Giger counters and high security, and even then remained occasionally perilous!
At a more practical level and of more relevance here, we had to ensure any scrap we had received such as gas cylinders was properly dealt with to avoid any risk of explosion when we came to melt them down – I'm sure even within your own industry you have to consider how to handle and store potentially hazardous forms of material like that – and this is where my colleagues in HSE will have far better knowledge than I.   

Apologies if I digressed at all there. Even with my previous experience of the scrap metal industry HSE cannot improve the sector's health and safety alone (– and yes I'm not being serious about me having any sort of pivotal role in this!)

The Industry needs to step up and take action to reduce the suffering of the workers and their families to ensure they come home as safe and well as they went to work that day.

The work that has been done by the industry already is truly appreciated and sometimes not captured in our statistics as they fall outside what is legally reportable under health and safety legislation.  However, it would be remiss of me not to mention the other two helping GB Work Well - health and safety commitments from this sector that demonstrate industry commitment to saving lives.

Firstly Biffa's 'persons in bins' campaign – A few years ago research undertaken collaboratively between Biffa, Streetlink – a charity which connects homeless people with local services - and CIWM, helped Biffa to establish a number of additional controls to raise awareness and reduce risks of people sleeping in commercial bins. This paved the way for wide media coverage, workgroups and bringing together Waste industry stakeholders to address the growing issue of the dangers of sleeping in bins.

The other initiative involves Biffa, Police Constabularies and Local Authorities for their DRoPS campaign – which stands for 'Driving Recklessly on Pavements'. Biffa waste collectors report around 3,000 near-miss incidents of motorists driving recklessly per month.

Many dangerous driving incidents going unreported and the startling number of incidents is a serious concern for both waste operatives and members of the public.

Biffa also worked on its internal procedures, improving route plans, monitoring additional driver training and use of CCTV cameras. It started as an initiative with Staffordshire police and local authority and has now expanded to include Norfolk and Suffolk and is being considered in another 10 police force areas.

The CCTV footage shows numerous incidents of careless drivers mounting pavements and driving into or nearly missing waste workers in order to dodge their trucks parked in the road.

Using a witness statement format agreed by the Police has also led to the prosecution rate for incidents rising from what had previously been a very low level.

DRoPs is an example of improving safety both for workers and the public.

This is not recognisable in the HSE statistics – but nonetheless saving lives of workers and pedestrians from impatient and reckless drivers so it's a great initiative.

I now urge you to reflect on the work that WISH and its working groups has achieved since the last summit, be proud if you were instrumental in it but more importantly make your voice heard today and support the next steps to improving health and safety in the Waste & Recycling Industry.

There is still much to do and we can't afford to lack awareness or be complacent – which reminds me of quotations attributed to a ship's captain "When anyone asks how I can best describe my experience in nearly 40 years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog, but in all my experience, I have never been in any accident of any sort worth speaking about" and "I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that" I'm sure you've guessed what ship Captain Edward Smith made his final voyage on – Titanic!

Thank you

Updated 2021-06-23