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What can be done to improve safety in the waste/recycling industry?

Although the construction, manufacturing and farming industries are widely considered to be the most hazardous sectors in which to work, a lot of people underestimate just how dangerous waste management plants can be.

It is fair to suggest that the UK has experienced a recycling boom in the past ten years or so, as more households realise that they must be as green as possible if we are to successfully ward off the threat of climate change.

Inevitably, this has resulted in a sharp rise in the number of waste management centres springing up throughout the country - many of which utilise special machinery to dispose of people's rubbish in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Unfortunately, the sector has a less than impressive record when it comes to health and safety.

Official figures compiled by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) towards the end of 2012 showed that despite accounting for just 0.6 per cent of employees in the UK, 2.8 per cent of all workplace injuries are attributed to the waste management/recycling industry.

It also accounted for 4.2 per cent of occupational fatalities in 2011/2012.

This is clearly an unacceptable ratio and the government, HSE and employers are all keen to rectify the situation.

So, why is this particular sector so dangerous?

Sadly, there is a limited amount of information on the causes of workplace deaths in this particular line of work.

In the five years between 2007 and 2012, the HSE said that 43 per cent of fatalities were classified as "other injuries or unknown", which is of little help when trying to establish why so many people are losing their lives on recycling sites.

However, the organisation also revealed that nearly one-third (29 per cent) of employees died because they were struck by a vehicle, while eight per cent of deaths happened when people came into contact with moving machinery.

Other causes of death included workers being hit by stationery or falling objects, collapses and falls from height.

In addition to this, 35 per cent of major injuries occurred when employees tripped or slipped on something.

What is being done to improve matters?

This month, the HSE has joined forces with the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum to create a blueprint for addressing the terrible death toll across the sector.

Senior figures from the industry recently met in Solihull to discuss the issue and an official plan of action will be published in April.

Speaking at the event, HSE chair Judith Hackitt said there is only so much her organisation and the WISH Forum can do.

"We must work together to respond to the current challenges and drive improvements in health and safety performance, but improving the track record is not for HSE to resolve alone - industry must take the lead," she remarked.

It is clear that senior figures who are familiar with the waste management trade are aware that things need to change.

John Skidmore - president of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management - suggested the drive towards better health and safety standards would be a "marathon and not a sprint".

"The industry's record is not good. We are the leaders in the industry and we have to do something about it," he added.

Meanwhile, chair of the Environmental Services Association David Palmer Jones insisted that the sector has made progress in recent years, but more needs to be done to ensure everyone working in the waste industry is as safe as possible.

"Working closely with the HSE and WISH, ESA members have collectively managed to reduce accident rates by 70 per cent since 2004. This shows the pattern can be changed, although there is still a lot of work ahead for all of us," he commented.ADNFCR-2134-ID-801547926-ADNFCR