OPINION: ‘Inspiring H&S culture can reduce accidents’

Improved waste processes, clever technology and an inspiring H&S culture can reduce accidents on site, writes Dr Mark Pennington, director EQHS at Axil Integrated Services

The last 18 months have seen sweeping transformations to the world of work, from hybrid working models to the way businesses transact with customers. But, for many industries, the most pressing challenge was to ensure employees were kept safe.

As a result, many companies took the opportunity to look at their wider health and safety practices. Even taking Covid-19 out of the equation, a report by safety equipment manufacturer Dräger found that 37% of employees said they now faced more day-to-day workplace hazards than they did two years ago.

This is particularly important in the waste and recycling industry. After construction and agriculture, the UK Health & Safety Executive recognises waste management as one of the riskiest industries. So, what should our industry be doing to make people safe?

A culture of interdependence

It’s safe to say that people are a company’s greatest asset. And, ultimately, all accidents are preventable if the right processes and procedures are in place. But for these to succeed, companies must also embed the right culture.

Author: Dr Mark Pennington of Axil Integrated Services

This isn’t a new concept in itself. In 1995, DuPont created the Bradley curve to try and benchmark the relationship between the number of accidents at work and the culture of an organisation. On one end of the scale, people follow procedures because they are told to. On the other side lies interdependence, where people help each other because it’s the right thing to do.


However, in recent years, it’s become apparent that the right technology can help processes and culture work in tandem.

For example, we replaced a paper-based H&S reporting system with a new online portal – that can be accessed at work or via personal devices.

This gives us visibility of incidents as soon as they are reported, rather than having to wait for them to be cascaded through a paper chain. And it means that our drivers and remote staff don’t need to wait until they are back in the office to flag potential issues.

We combine this with monthly targets for everyone in the company – including our senior management team (and me!). This ensures we don’t slip into bad habits and helps create a culture where everyone looks out for each other.

Learning from mistakes

It might seem strange, but the more reports a company receives, the better. The Heinrich safety pyramid has found that the more unsafe acts/conditions and near misses that are reported, the less likely it is that a company will see a major fatality or incident.

Our reporting system also allows our employees to make suggestions about what we can do better and helps us spot any potential problems or patterns when we are on customers’ sites.

By understanding behaviour, we can take steps to make improvements. This might mean implementing one-way systems in areas that we control on customer sites to help prevent people from straying too close to vehicles or mobile plants, or using sortation tables to make it easier to manually handle the materials.

Good practice can be further supported by suitable technology.

Businesses should also thoroughly investigate all accidents and near misses that could have led to them in order understanding the root cause. They can and share any learnings with the business.

Good practice can be further supported by suitable technology. Fort Lift Trucks can be installed with proximity sensors, for example, to stop them if pedestrians get too close, or devices that can detect a flammable atmosphere and shut the engine down.

While technology like this is an important safeguard – and one we are more than happy to invest in – hopefully it will never be needed. It should be a last resort, not a crutch because, ultimately, safety rests in the hands of people.

If organisations can approach H&S without cynicism, encourage communication and reporting, and foster a culture where all employees look out for each other, we can significantly reduce risk in the waste industry.

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