Health experts have concluded that sickness absence rates due to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among council waste collection workers can be reduced by using wheeled bins.

MSDs include any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper or lower limbs or the back and can be worsened by workplace conditions.

The new research from the University of Greenwich and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) examined the relationship between the use of recycling and waste management systems and absence rates among local authority waste collection workers due to MSDs.

The study used staff absence data from 15 local authorities in the UK who provided records with information about workers’ roles.

This allowed for absence rates to be calculated in relation to job type. Then, using a software platform, the team identified statistically significant relationships between types of waste collection services by comparing absence rates for MSDs with non-MSDs for each primary job role.

The research, published in the Resources, Conservation and Recycling journal, shows that the use of wheeled bins is linked to lower sickness absence rates among council waste collection workers and that changing waste collection systems used by councils in the UK could reduce staff absences due to MSDs.

Lower staff absences due to MSDs were associated with the use of wheeled bins in comparison to the use of boxes, baskets and sacks. Interestingly, even lower absences were linked to the use of larger four-wheeled bins, when handled by two workers.

Dr David Thomas of the University of Greenwich said, “There are over 60,000 waste collection workers in the UK and employers should evaluate ill-health risks before new waste collection systems are adopted and rolled out. They should also monitor absence rates specific to work activity to ensure that they move to more sustainable systems that create less MSDs.”

Last reviewed 13 August 2019