The Covid-19 pandemic has created an opportunity to promote health and safety in the waste and recycling sector, according to a leading H&S expert.
Chris Jones, chair of the WISH (Waste Industry Safety and Health) Forum, said that, despite having been a “terrible thing”, the pandemic had raised the importance of good health and safety practices up the agenda.
This is particularly important, he indicated, due to the industry’s health and safety record.
“We have an opportunity now to promote the health agenda which we have always struggled with in the waste and recycling sector.”
Mr Jones pointed out that the waste sector dealt with many pathogens beside Covid-19 that caused ill health and these issues needed more attention.
And, he said that putting wash basis on refuse collection vehicles, keeping cabs clean and not going home in dirty clothes could help reduce potential risk to workers.
“For years and years and years we have struggled to get wash basins fitted on collection vehicles and if they are fitted they are inevitably in a terrible state and nobody would want to use them”, he explained.
Citing another example of bad practice, he said: “I have seen far too many times collection crews eating ice cream cones with their gloves on…I just shudder.”
Mr Jones was speaking at a workshop on health and safety at the virtual LARAC conference 2020 this week (October 15) alongside Lisa Higgins, senior health and safety officer at Buckinghamshire council.
After lockdown was announced on 23 March , Mr Jones explained that WISH had put out industry guidance on safe waste management practices during Covid-19 “in a matter of days”.
The organisation consequently revised and updated the guidance a number of times in response to industry feedback, with the first full version being published on April 2 and the most recent version eight, issued in August.
The guidance—known as ‘INFO13 – Covid-19 and Waste Management Activities’—grew from an initial five pages to 30, including a checklist which Mr Jones said had received particularly good feedback.
Recommendations include that prolonged use of face masks is unlikely to be effective and may produce additional risks by trapping contaminants and creating a moist environment for other pathogens which are prevalent in the waste sector to breed. WISH also advocates keeping facilities well ventilated and the continuation of general good hygiene practices such as hand washing and wearing protective gloves, he explained.
Providing the latest update on this, he said: “Version nine is in draft form, we don’t feel we need to publish it just yet as there is not enough change.”
Looking at health and safety from an operational perspective, Ms Higgins then outlined the measures taken in Buckinghamshire when lockdown was first announced.
The council operates an in-house recycling and waste service with 128 crew members. She explained that it followed the WISH guidance “as much as we could” and suspended bulky and garden waste collections for nine weeks.
Safety measures included carrying out risk assessments, educating staff, providing wipes and gels, effective communication, limiting the number of workers on site, adopting task and finish and deep cleaning of vehicles.
She commented: “The crews have been amazing. We are so proud of our guys. They really stepped up to the mark.”