The waste and recycling principal inspector at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Tim Small, has said that the waste sector needs to “commit to action” to improve its safety record.
Speaking at the virtual Health and Safety conference organised by letsrecycle last week (12 November) Mr Small said that a “commitment to action” is needed for improving safety in the sector, as “words are cheap”.
Mr Small stated that 45 people had been killed over a five year period up to 2019 in waste sector workplace incidents, and reiterated that this was not just the workforce, but also members of the public.
He said: “The difficulty with health is that it is not tangible in the way that safety is, and covid has brought that home to us. It’s worth remembering it’s not just workers who are killed, but 30 members of the public were also killed.”
Mr Small added: “In efforts to improve health and safety in the industry, the HSE are carrying out target inspections as the waste sector is “high priority”.
Urging the waste industry to learn from accidents, Mr Small explained that “design and procurement initiatives” are important so that the workplace fits the worker, instead of using the worker to adapt to “inconsistencies” within the workplace.
Other speakers at the conference included Geoff Smallwood, a consultant for the UK’s Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum, which has published 19 guidance documents for the industry.
Mr Smallwood reported that it was “heartening” to see that half of respondents in a study said they are using WISH health and safety documents and embedding them within their organisations. He added that the feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive”.
On a positive note for the waste industry, Mr Smallwood reported that health and safety has improved over the past year. However, he added that the sector is still “high risk”.
He explained: “We are still a high risk sector and when you look at the latest HSE document, we are recording nine fatalities a year on average, which equated to a fatality rate 18 times higher than the all industry rate. That’s not a good place to be. We can really do better. We may have improved but we still have a long way to go.”
Bud Hudspith, national health and safety advisor at the Unite union, also spoke at the conference about key issues with health and safety and the path forward.
Speaking on how organisations can achieve successful health and safety, Mr Hudspith noted that leadership is “crucial” and that certain myths need to be debunked in order for the sector to improve.
“We should think about technical issues that are involved in accidents, in promoting safety and good health”
He outlined how people make errors due to the systems they are operating within and that solutions to most problems are “technical rather than psychological.”
He explained: “You cannot change the human condition, but you can change the condition under which humans work. We should think about technical issues that are involved in accidents, in promoting safety and good health.
“Most people don’t choose to make mistakes, but all of us make mistakes every day, the vast majority of which are inconsequential.
“The fact that nothing seems to be going wrong doesn’t mean there is nothing wrong. People talk about accountability and addressing human error. Punishing people for making mistakes is a futile exercise.”