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Waste and recycling continues to pose a danger to workers

Although there has been a general decrease in the number of injuries in the waste and recycling industry over the past few years, it continues to be one of the most high-risk sectors to work in.

High proportion of injuries

Latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that although the sector accounts for only around 0.6% of British employees, it still manages to account for 2.8% of reported injuries, including 11% of all fatalities, 2.6% of major injuries and 2.8% of over-seven-day injuries.

Twelve worker fatalities in one year

Looking at the HSE provisional figures on waste and recycling for 2012/13:

  • waste collection, treatment and disposal activities grew almost 5% between August 2012 and 2013,
  • there were twelve fatal injuries to workers, including one fatal injury to a self-employed person, and
  • there were three fatal injuries to members of the public.

The figures also show that in the last five years, over a third of the:

  • fatalities (39%) are due to employees being struck by vehicles,
  • reported major injuries (37%) are due to slips and trips, and
  • reported over seven-day injuries (35%) are due to handling.

Worker crushed to death

The very real dangers of the waste and recycling sector were highlighted in a case recently reported by the HSE in which a 21-year-old worker tragically lost his life.

He was working for a skip hire firm in Blackburn and was using a skid steer loader to move some rubbish at the site when he was crushed to death. No one witnessed the accident but it is thought that he must have caught a lever as he climbed out of the cab and was crushed against the vehicle when the bucket on the front was raised.

During its investigation, the HSE found that the skid steer loader was not safe to use and the worker had not been given any formal training. The company had bought the vehicle second hand and failed to ensure that the safety features were operational before starting to use it.

The company and its owner both pleaded guilty to single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The company was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £19,000 in prosecution costs. The owner was ordered to carry out 160 hours of unpaid community work in the next 12 months and to pay costs of £1,000.

Incident causes life threatening injuries

In a second case, a worker was fortunately not killed but still sustained life threatening injuries after becoming trapped between the lifting hoist and the side of a refuse vehicle in East Kilbride.

The man, who was employed by South Lanarkshire Council, suffered severe abdominal crush injuries. He required extensive surgery to repair damaged arteries and most of his colon and small bowel had to be removed.

He had been operating a glass recycling vehicle when the side lifter jammed in an upright position. He unplugged the side lifter’s pendant control unit and took it into the vehicle’s cab to dry out, which was apparently common practice when unexpected stoppages occurred.

Unfortunately, the vehicle’s engine had been left running, so when he tried to reconnect the control unit the hoist activated and trapped him against the vehicle.

HSE found that the incident was the result of:

  • inadequate risk assessment,
  • the lack of a safe system of work, and
  • a failure to provide adequate information, instruction, supervision and training.

The Council was fined £50,000 after pleading guilty to three breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

“South Lanarkshire Council understood the risks of working with such vehicles but although supervisors were aware of this developing practice relating to the removal of the pendant controllers, they did nothing to discourage it,” said HSE Inspector Eve Macready. “The systems of work in place should have triggered activity to stop this practice or review existing arrangements.”

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For specialist personal injury claims advice in Scotland, including claims for work related injuries, contact us today: click here to make an online enquiry or call us on 0800 027 1480.

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0.

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