The document, entitled ‘People in commercial waste containers', follows the deaths of three people since May 2009 who were found dead at waste depots when waste was unloaded from the collection vehicles.
Anecdotal reports from the waste management and recycling industry suggest that there have been many other occasions where people have been discovered alive in bins prior to, or during, them being emptied into collection vehicles.
The guidance has been developed in response to calls from industry for clearer ways of working and has been produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in conjunction with the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum – a body made up of representatives from the waste and recycling industry.
It is aimed at waste producers, those responsible for managing waste storage areas, and waste collection organisations who all have responsibilities under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to reduce the potential for injury and death to people in bins.
HSE encourages a proportionate and common sense approach to the issue. The guidance outlines simple steps that businesses should be taking as part of their normal work, and if it is followed, organisations should be doing enough to meet their legal duties.
The guidance includes advice on risk assessments, the checking of bins, actions to take on discovering a person and examples of good practice within the industry, such as recognising high-risk locations and ensuring employees are properly briefed and trained, to help companies understand what they need to do.
Geoff Cox, HSE's head of waste management and recycling sector, said: “These deaths and near misses most often involve those who are vulnerable either through drink or through seeking shelter. But they are preventable.
“Those who produce the waste, are responsible for storing it or collecting it all have an essential role to play in reducing the likelihood of any further tragic deaths. The industry has been after guidance to clarify ways of working and what we have produced with WISH is simple, relevant and user-friendly.
“We fully recognise that seeking shelter in a bin may be preferable to risking it on the street in all weathers, but we want people to understand what the tragic consequences of that can be. We encourage those who are sleeping rough to look after themselves and to look out for each other too.”
Chris Jones, chair of WISH, added: “It is important that all those who generate, manage or collect waste play their part, and it should be easy to incorporate the recommended steps into what they already do.”