The Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum has reiterated that national media reports which claimed refuse workers are more at risk from covid-19, are “not warranted”.
The reports in some mainstream media claimed refuse workers had a higher mortality rate, were also confirmed to be incorrect by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday (see letsrecycle.com story).
In a statement, the WISH forum said that on first examination, the data does appear to be “alarming”, as waste operations were grouped under ‘elementary occupations’ which show 699 fatalities related to covid-19 between March to December 2020.
This would mean a death rate of 66.3, which is “indeed higher” as an average than all other industry groupings.
However, WISH said that there are many occupations grouped under the ‘elementary’ banner, including construction, process plant and security operations, and if only waste-related occupations are analysed, “the story is very different”.
Commenting on the media reports, Chris Jones, chairman at WISH, said: “Articles such as these are hugely unhelpful. They create unfounded and unnecessary concern, and fail to recognise what we believe are very successful efforts made by the sector to protect its employees whilst continuing to supply essential services.”
‘Not the case’
WISH’s statement continued to say that in the industry, the numbers who have died of covid-19 appear relatively low (considering the waste industry employs around 80,000 people).
WISH added that as ONS calculate what is known as a ‘death rate’ which is standardised per 100,000 workers, it appears so low, that for waste disposal and environmental service managers, street cleaners and energy plant operatives, it is “too low to calculate”.
For refuse and salvage occupations it is calculated at 45.8 which WISH said is “much lower” than many occupations.
It added that out of the 368 occupations listed, the waste industry ranks at 44th.
The statement said: “Hence based on this information it is not warranted to state bin men are amongst the riskiest of occupations and it appears this is inferred as those workers are in a category where some of the occupations are indeed riskier. However, once the data are examined this is not the case.
“To date there have been no reports nationwide of large outbreaks of COVID within waste collection crews and hopefully this will continue to be the case. The information in WISH INFO 13 on managing covid-19 risks in waste and recycling has undoubtedly contributed to preventing outbreaks. Info 13 continues to be updated and refined regularly based on experience reported back from industry and information received from government and scientific sources.”