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Waste and recycling sector strategy 2012-15

Sector description

Waste and recycling comprises a broad range of activities relating to the collection, disposal and recycling of industrial (including chemicals), commercial and municipal (household) waste. These activities include:

The industry is characterised by:

Key stakeholders

WISH is a multi-party forum comprised of many and varied stakeholders associated with the industry, including trade and professional associations, trade unions, national and local government bodies (eg Environmental Services Association (ESA), Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), Trades Union Congress (TUC), HSE, Environment Agency etc). It provides leadership by distributing information, identifying emerging issues and exploring potential solutions.

Local authorities (and larger companies) are well positioned to provide health and safety leadership as principal procurers (and suppliers) of waste and recycling services. Incorporating health and safety into contract tenders can influence standards (particularly among SMEs) - if procurers set clear expectations and monitor their fulfilment.

Trade union representation is relatively strong, although influence is less in private sector organisations. Formal worker involvement is strong in sewage and refuse sectors, regardless of whether unions are recognised or not. Larger organisations are generally more likely to have formal mechanisms for worker involvement than their SME counterparts.

There is a need to ensure that all parties work together - whatever their size - to ensure effective worker engagement at every level.

Safety and health issues

Despite recent improvements, health and safety performance remains poor in relation to other industries:

Waste collection represents one of the most hazardous aspects of this industry:

It is important that companies operating across fixed and transient work sites have formal or informal mechanisms that enable employers, managers and staff to work together to identify risks and devise proportionate, practical controls.

Reported ill-health data is limited, but there is growing concern about the potential for significant occupational disease risks arising from some emerging processing and recycling activities. Examples include potential exposure to:

Research is currently being conducted to examine the type, level and causes of occupational disease in the industry and inform future targeting.

Communicating with SMEs remains a challenge, as they are generally more difficult to reach than larger operators. The developing nature of this industry contributes to uncertainty about appropriate risk controls. Accessible, relevant and practical advice is needed in different forms to improve SME competence and to encourage positive, proportionate attitudes to health and safety.

In view of increasing pressures on local authorities to raise revenue and reduce costs, effective solutions to balance health and safety requirements with demanding service targets cannot be identified in isolation. All parties must work together to devise integrated, compatible and consistent standards that facilitate co-operation through the supply chain. Ultimately, improvement will depend on organisations establishing a shared commitment to act upon individual roles and responsibilities for health and safety at all levels of operation.

Legislation and regulation

HSE is the principal health and safety regulator. The devolved administrations have different policy and legislative making powers for waste and environment, and set different recycling targets etc, which can influence health and safety.

Strategic regulatory and sector approach

Waste and recycling is a priority industry for HSE given its continued expansion, high rates for fatal and other injuries, potentially significant health issues, concerns about collection activities and the direct and unavoidable public interface.

HSE developed a programme of work with stakeholders in 2005–08, which coincided with stabilisation of the rising accident rate. A further programme of work was approved in December 2008 for April 2009 to March 2013.

In January 2009, WISH launched a Charter containing strategic objectives to improve health and safety performance in the industry over a 5-year period (2009–14). It aims to reduce accident numbers by 10% year-on-year and to reduce the working days lost to accidents and ill health. By signing up to the Charter, organisations demonstrate their commitment to delivering improvements against the objectives and hard targets. In February 2014, WISH formally adopted the key goals and objectives of the HSE Sector Strategy. The contents of the WISH Charter are reflected in the aims of this strategy.

There remains a continuing need for intervention in the waste and recycling sector due to:

Priorities include reducing accident numbers, promoting effective health and safety management, continued improvements in safety culture / workforce engagement and increasing general levels of health and safety competence.

Future trends

Growth is expected to continue, with rising numbers of workers and businesses, in response to increasing societal pressures to recycle waste material.

There are many new and emerging technologies (including application of traditional technologies in novel ways) being developed to meet stringent environmental and recycling targets, the hazards and risks from which may not be fully understood.

With continuing economic pressures on local authorities, the challenge will be to balance environmental, service and recycling targets with the need to deliver activities safely.

Aims for 2012–2015


To encourage strong leadership, especially in key stakeholders and intermediaries across the industry, so they can demonstrate how and what they are doing to improve health and safety. They actively seek to learn from their own and others' experience, use their influence to help others improve, share good practice and recognise success.

Worker involvement

To encourage organisations to ensure that employers, managers and workers work together to prevent work-related ill health and injury.


To encourage an increase in competence across the industry, so that employers are sufficiently competent to identify and proactively manage their risks, employees understand the risks they face and their role in dealing with them.

Healthier, safer workplaces

To create healthier, safer workplaces across the industry by:


Adapt and customise approaches to help SMEs comply with their health and safety obligations - SMEs have the skills and knowledge to recognise the actions they need to take.

Updated 2021-02-25