RR1128 - Common human factors underlying worker fatalities in the waste and recycling industry

Improvement in health and safety performance in the waste sector is a priority for HSE. The waste management and recycling industry accounts for about 0.4% of employees in Great Britain. However, the fatal injury rate was fifteen times greater than the average across all industries over the period 2012/13 – 2016/17.

This report describes research to identify common underlying human factors that have contributed to fatal incidents within the waste and recycling industry. Eighteen fatal incidents were analysed: 12 in small and medium enterprises (with less than 250 employees) SMEs, and 6 in large enterprises. The research identified four top level human factors: (i) 'preconditions for deficit' (ie fundamental issues) such as lack of separation of workers and hazardous machinery; (ii) 'organisational influences' such as inadequate safety management systems and safety culture; (iii) 'individual actions' such as tasks not being performed in the safest manner; and (iv) 'wider influences' specific to SMEs such as machinery that is supplied to them with inadequate documentation on safe operation. The majority of factors were not specific to company size.

The research also identified potential actions to reduce the likelihood of future fatalities. These focus on: equipment selection, use and maintenance; raising awareness of associated risks; the need for effective safety management systems; and the sharing of good practice. These potential actions are irrespective of organisational size.

This report and the work it describes were co-funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and CIWM, the professional body for resource and waste management. Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2021-04-16