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Waste and Recycling: Managing collection services safely

Waste and recycling collection services operate in diverse, dynamic environments—cramped city streets, wide-open rural roads and busy motorways, among other places. With such a variety of locations, circumstances can change rapidly for the average collection crew.

Even though all collection crews perform the same type of work and share the same legal obligation to follow their country’s applicable Highway Code, imposing the same methods or safety rules for all collection crews is futile and ineffective.

Managers and employers in the waste and recycling collection services industry should instead focus on identifying and assessing their business’ specific hazards and risks to formulate control strategies that successfully curtail injuries and disease. Consider implementing risk control measures while designing your service and assessing and managing your business’ risks.

Designing the collection service

Providing for the health, safety and welfare of collection crews starts at the initial design stage. When designing a collection service route, develop safe systems of work alongside arrangements for managing risk. Keep any systems your business adopts under review so you can amend them to coincide with your experience.

As you design your business’ safe systems of work and collection routes, factor in mitigation strategies to deal with the following general issues and hazards:

  • The collection process, materials like bins and bags, and procedures for different collection areas such as rural, high-rise and urban
  • The size and specification of collection vehicles in relation to the geography, street layout and the width of roads
  • Eliminating or reducing the need to reverse
  • Tailoring collection services within certain time restrictions to minimise the number of pedestrians in the area during the collection process
  • Lowering crews’ exposure to noise, particularly in glass collection
  • Ensuring collection crews’ competence
  • Assessing whether single or double-sided collection methods are safer

When drafting a contract for a client, confirm that your services balance value with attention to health and safety. For example, do not sacrifice safety for expediency. Build health and safety considerations into the very fabric of your business agreements.

Assessing collection route risks

As an employer or manager of a collection services business, you are responsible for conducting suitable and sufficient assessments of the risks your employees encounter on their routes. Assess your risks with a general overview, but temper your broad approach with a specific, bespoke assessment that is sensitive to particular hazards on certain routes.

The responsibility for ensuring risk assessments extends to any service arrangements you have yet to implement—you should never impose a change to your service arrangements without first assessing the risks that accompany that change.

Similarly, train your collection crews to undertake on-the-spot risk assessments to accommodate the typically sudden or unforeseeable changes in collection crews’ working environment. Your crew should follow the simple five-step risk assessment process provided by the HSE, located here.

Risk assessments should catalogue every permanent hazard in your crews’ routes. For the hazards your crews face each day, risk assessment training will prepare them to overcome any daily obstacles and specific hazards that pop up. Some of the hazards that threaten collection crews include:

  • High winds, snow, ice and rain
  • Schools and community centres
  • Working on the motorway
  • Road speed and usage
  • Overhead obstructions
  • Concealed entrances
  • Blind bends
  • Pedestrian areas
  • Parked cars
  • Poor visibility
  • Loose surfaces and potholes

Managing the risks

The range of risks and the degree of variability inherent in waste and recycling collection can seem daunting. But with a firm risk management programme, you can rest assured that your employees are equipped to complete their work duties safely and quickly. Your risk management programme should detail guidelines to ensure the following health and safety components are present at all times in your business:

  • Safe crew – A safe, well-trained crew helps reduce overall injuries. Employees should be able to conduct risk assessments and take appropriate action based on their assessments.
  • Reliable and safe vehicle – Choose the right vehicle for each route to reduce your risk and be more efficient. For example, assign smaller vehicles to routes with congested city streets.
  • Secure environment – Although collection crews typically do not have control over their environment, work with clients and dutyholders to secure a safe environment for everyone.
  • Competence – Every employee must be trained and capable of fulfilling his or her job duties.
  • Communication – Always communicate the findings of your risk assessments to ensure employees are included in the health and safety conversation and to keep them up to date on your business’ latest health and safety hazards.
  • Supervision, monitoring and review – Supervise and monitor your employees to see whether they are following your risk control measures. Periodically review your risk management.

Bespoke is best

Due to the nature of collection services, a standard waste and recycling policy will not suffice. You need a bespoke policy that addresses your business’ specific needs. Count on the insurance professionals at Arthur Marsh for all the resources and expertise to keep your business collecting for years to come.

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