Bin crews ‘not more at risk’ of COVID-19 compared to other occupations – WISH

Recent articles in mainstream press that have indicated bin crews as being more at risk from COVID-related deaths compared to all occupations in the UK, have been rebuffed by the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH).

The inference of there being a ‘higher risk’ was based on ONS data which is the official data released by the UK Government, WISH says.

It says that on first examination of this data this does appear to be an ‘alarming statistic’. Waste operations are grouped under ‘elementary occupations’ which show 699 fatalities related to COVID between March to December 2020, a death rate of 66.3 (age standardised per 100,000 population)*, which is indeed higher as an average than all other industry groupings.

However, it says there are many occupations grouped under the ‘elementary’ banner, including construction, process plant and security operations. It says it only waste-related occupations are analysed the story is ‘very different’.

WISH says the total all deaths data shows, for waste-related jobs, that the numbers who have unfortunately died of COVID appear ‘relatively low’ (considering the waste industry employs around 80,000 at least).

To date there have been no reports nationwide of large outbreaks of COVID within waste collection crews and hopefully this will continue to be the case

‘If we look further, the ONS calculate what is known as a ‘death rate’ which is standardised per 100,000 workers – and this is so low that for waste disposal and environmental service managers, street cleaners and energy plant operatives it is too low to calculate,’ WISH said.

For refuse and salvage occupations, it is calculated at 45.8 (with the caveat that it is statistically unreliable due to the low numbers recorded). WISH says this figure is ‘much lower’ than many occupations, for instance publicans (219.9), police officers (194.1), bank and post office clerks (105.5), roofers (100.5), hairdressers and barbers (112.5) and security guards (100.7).

It says that out of the 368 occupations listed, it is 44th and this is based on a ‘large confidence interval’. ‘In other words even this placement is uncertain,’ WISH says.

Based on this information, WISH says it is ‘not warranted’ to state bin workers are amongst the riskiest of occupations and it appears this is inferred as those workers are in a category where some of the occupations are indeed riskier. However, WISH says that once the data are examined this is not the case.

‘To date there have been no reports nationwide of large outbreaks of COVID within waste collection crews and hopefully this will continue to be the case,’ WISH said.

The information in WISH INFO 13 on managing COVID-19 risks in waste and recycling has undoubtedly contributed to preventing outbreaks, it says.

INFO 13 continues to be updated and refined regularly based on experience reported back from industry and information received from government and scientific sources.

*In men.  In women the total COVID deaths are 227 and the rate is 21.1 which is lower than ‘caring, leisure and other service occupations’ but higher than all other industry.

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