ESA’s Stephen Freeland discusses the range of activities, roles and businesses, and therefore the contrasting health and safety performance, of those in the waste and recycling industry
The release of HSE’s statistics on the health and safety performance of the waste management industry makes for a rather sobering read. The headlines for 2016/17 remain largely unchanged from data releases of years gone by, which, yet again, points to a higher than average injury rate and with little meaningful improvement on the year before.
This should be of concern to all within the industry as, without progress, it could struggle to shrug off the negative stereotypes; that it is dangerous and dirty work. If we want to attract and retain talented individuals, and showcase the variety of technical and skilled positions on offer, then the industry needs to demonstrate that it is serious about creating a safe, healthy and rewarding place to work.
This will prove challenging until health and safety standards are raised across the board, and with a corresponding improvement in the injury rate reflected in HSE’s statistics.
If we want to attract and retain talented individuals, and showcase the variety of technical and skilled positions on offer, then the industry needs to demonstrate that it is serious about creating a safe, healthy and rewarding place to work.
In today’s business environment, where corporate social responsibility has come to the fore, this is an equally important consideration in maintaining and promoting investor confidence. It is, of course, this inward investment that helps deliver new infrastructure and waste services.
Therefore, while HSE’s headline data is clearly worrying news (see page 22), it does at least help put the industry’s health and safety performance in the spotlight and, by raising the issue higher up the agenda, it could help prove the catalyst for the necessary change.
One aspect that is perhaps not entirely apparent from HSE’s data is that health and safety performance varies considerably within the waste and recycling industry. Ours is arguably one of the most complex and diverse of all the UK’s industrial sectors, encompassing a wide range of facilities and operations with everything from the highly specialised, process-based installations (such as energy from waste, gasification and anaerobic digestion), to more manual and labour intensive sorting of mixed recyclables in material recovery facilities.
It’s More Complex Than That
Added to this mix is a whole host of players within the industry, including local authorities, the private sector (ESA and non-ESA members), the third sector, SMEs and others, all providing waste services to the UK’s homes and businesses. This adds an additional layer of complexity and it can be difficult to reach out to all these groups and ensure that all are actively engaged in the health and safety agenda and are working consistently to the same high standards in health and safety.
HSE compiles injury data from across all these different activities and organisations to produce an aggregated total for the industry as a whole, which unfortunately does little to highlight the actual risk profile across the industry’s different activities or reveal where one sector within the industry might be performing better than the rest.
There is clearly no room for one-upmanship when it comes to health and safety and, like the rest of the industry, ESA has considerably more to do to reduce harm.
It is this that has motivated ESA to prepare a report on the contrasting levels of health and safety performance which exists within our industry. ESA has long championed the cause for raising health and safety standards across our industry and our members are focused, above all, on moving towards the ultimate goal of zero harm.
ESA’s latest data (2016) of its members’ performance reveals a RIDDOR injury rate of 577 (per 100,000 employees), which is three times lower than the injury rate reported by HSE for the industry as a whole. In fact, since the launch of ESA’s Accident Reduction Charter in 2004 – which commits members to reducing injuries by 10 percent each year – ESA members have reduced injuries by 86 percent.
There is clearly no room for one-upmanship when it comes to health and safety and, like the rest of the industry, ESA has considerably more to do to reduce harm. Our new health and safety report merely aims to shed light on where the most meaningful improvement gains within our industry could be made.
In the report, ESA will also call for greater transparency around the health and safety performance of in-house service provision, with greater take-up of targeted KPIs to allow health and safety performance to be assessed and benchmarked against industry good practice.
Stephen joined the Environmental Services Association, the trade body for the waste and recycling industry, in 2005. As policy advisor his main role is to help inform the development of H&S and environmental policy on behalf of the industry.
This article was first published in the December 2017 issue of the CIWM Journal.