East Dunbartonshire Council

Situated just North East of Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire Council covers an area of some 20 172 hectares and with a population of about 110 000 people. As well as providing facilities for people to recycle waste and encouraging them to make full use of these facilities, the council also provides a weekly waste collection service to households in the area. The service is operated by the council and has not been contracted out.

A waste collector using reversing assistant training (back view)

The authority undertook a fundamental review of its entire waste resources service. This involved a review of job remits and responsibilities. During this process they took the opportunity to make the workforce more effective, by empowering employees through the creation of a number of 'team leader' posts. This improved supervision on the ground and the additional responsibility is covered by a higher grade of post.

Throughout the review the authority actively engaged with workforce representatives and trade unions to shape the new service structure and operating arrangements. This was over and above the normal health and safety committee structure.

A specific example of how the authority has managed change in consultation with the workforce is demonstrated in its review of risk assessments for its household waste and recycling collections. This identified that reversing manoeuvres by collection vehicles was a high-risk activity if not properly managed.

The authority has introduced a number of measures to reduce the risk of injury to both its workforce and to members of the public from this activity:

  • route assessments including action to reduce the number of reversing movements to as few as possible;
  • reversing assistant training for all drivers and collectors, followed up by an assessment of individual competence;
  • reversing assistant awareness training for supervisors and line managers.
  • toolbox talks on safe systems of work;
  • monitoring of safe system of work and competency checks of reversing assistants during normal operations;
  • providing extendable poles with washer heads for cleaning CCTV camera lenses on vehicles. These are kept in vehicles so that they can be used during collections as required.

The crews have found the reversing assistant training very useful and it has helped focus attention on crew movements around collection vehicles. The additional responsibility of the reversing assistant has helped to manage the natural tendency for individuals to become complacent around their vehicle on familiar routes.

The initiatives have support from both the crews and senior managers and officers within the council. They are closely monitored and reviewed to ensure standards are maintained and lessons learnt.

A waste collector using reversing assistant training (front view)

Comments from Mick Greene (Trade Union and Health and Safety Rep) for Waste Resources: 'Over the last couple of years we have seen a number of improvements in the depot. Most of all, the guys have become more aware of the risks around the vehicle and since we have all had our reversing assistant training we make sure that these are being followed. It has been very good that we get up-to-date information and constant reminders on health and safety, which is helpful in our day-to-day job.'

Comments from Lynn Thrower - Roads and Neighbourhood Operations Manager: There have been significant improvements to our operational working practices in recent years, including the introduction of safe working procedures for reversing and providing reversing assistant training to all our operatives and drivers.

'The training not only allows us to have better control on the risks of reversing, but has also increased the operatives' awareness of these risks, thereby allowing a safety culture to grow within the workforce.

'We also actively encourage feedback and engagement from our operatives by auditing these practices on a regular basis, providing a suggestion box in the canteen, and invite employees and representatives to attend our monthly health and safety depot meetings.

'On the whole, the commitment from the team has been excellent, although we are constantly aiming to improve our health and safety record and culture.'

Comments from Derek Cunningham, Director of Development and Infrastructure: 'The success in driving forward improvements in our safe working practices has been through the hard work and commitment from all concerned - management and supervisory staff, trade unions and the wider workforce. It doesn't come easy but the benefits are ultimately worth the efforts.'

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Updated: 2021-06-30