Last reviewed 9 July 2020

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned companies in the waste and recycling industry that it is seeing dangerous near misses in the sector, and there are concerns that basic risks may be overlooked amidst the current focus on Covid-19.

The health and safety watchdog issued the warning recently, shortly after releasing its annual workplace fatality figures for 2019/20 which show that waste and recycling still has a high fatal injury rate.

There were five fatalities in the waste and recycling sector in 2019/20, according to the HSE’s latest provisional figures, and while this represents a decline from 9 deaths in 2015/16, the current fatal injury rate for the sector is calculated by the HSE to be 4.57 deaths per 100,000 workers, which is around 18 times that of the all-industry rate.

According to the HSE, transport and machinery-related risks remain the main causes of fatality in the sector, while other prevalent causes of non-fatal accidents involve slips, trips and falls as well as lifting and handling.

As a result, the HSE has urged waste management companies not to forget to control other serious health and safety risks when running their business, while taking measures to reduce the chances of the Covid-19 infection.

The HSE says that many waste companies are reporting lower than usual levels of sickness absence at the moment.

However, conversely, the HSE says, they are having near misses with a high potential for a serious accident.

For example, the HSE says, problems might include employees concentrating so hard on social distancing that they step unaware into traffic and so monitoring for good traffic safety performance is important.

Equally, employees may be so focused on Covid-19 precautions that lapses in lock-off, work at height and other critical precautions occur.

Therefore, while monitoring precautions against Covid-19 remains important, employers also need to ensure that monitoring for compliance with precautions aimed at other risks also continues and is not overlooked.