Draft WISH guidance: Social distancing “difficult or impossible” for waste crews

Although social distancing may be “difficult or impossible” for crews working together in the cabs of waste collection vehicles, if procedures are followed the risk of contracting Coronavirus “should be low”, according to draft WISH guidance.

The ‘Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) has issued new guidance which is open for consultation, intended to provide basic advice on waste management operations, information on what to do if an employee/s develops symptoms and advice on contingency planning.

With the spread of COVID-19 and the current need for social distancing, there have been questions among the waste management sector regarding how to implement this is a situation where waste collections crews work together in close confines in the cabs of waste collection vehicles.

It is good practice to ensure a high standard of hygiene when handling waste materials, as should always be the case in waste management activities

Regarding this, the WISH guidance states that waste collection is a “key service” and is important that operations continue. It states that “if procedures are followed, ensuring workers with suspected symptoms are sent home immediately, the risk should be low”.

If a household collections operative has been confirmed as having, or is being investigated for COVID-19, then the collections crew they work directly with should be sent home.

Not all other collection crews based at the same site (unless they are also displaying the symptoms), need to be sent home, however.

Workers recovering from symptoms are also required to stay away for 7 days from the commencement of the symptoms.

The guidance states that consideration should be given to reducing the number of persons who must share cab space “where this is practicable”, but stresses “provided safety standards are maintained”.

Limiting the spread

According to WISH, some of the latest research indicates COVID-19 could survive on cardboard for 24 hours, and metal/plastics for up to 72 hours.

It says, however, “it is important to note, this work exposed these surfaces to high concentrations in a laboratory environment and is therefore likely to be the ‘worst case’ scenario.

“It is good practice to ensure a high standard of hygiene when handling waste materials, as should always be the case in waste management activities.

“The virus survives on the skin for more than enough time to allow hand to mouth/nose/eyes transmission.”

To limit the spread of the disease, it is important that individuals self-isolate if they, or their family, have symptoms, or if they are immunocompromised or similar.

This could result in significant absence from work and large organisations should prepare for up to 20% of their workforce being unable to work, although this may not be all at the same time. Smaller organisations should prepare for 30% absence as staff may be affected disproportionately.

Larger organisations should be aware that they may have several smaller sites which could also be disproportionately affected.

The guidance states: “As the spread of the disease is national and, at the time of writing, exponential, there could be significant disruption to normal operation.

“It is recommended that managers consider and plan the contingency actions that they may need to take if 15–30% of their employees were to be unavailable to work with COVID-19.”

For the full guidance, click here.

Responses should be sent by email to info@wishforum.org.uk. by close of play today (31 March).

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