The challenges in controlling health and safety risks in Energy from Waste

Our Legal Director, Louise Mansfield, explores the challenges in controlling health and safety risks in Energy from Waste.
The challenges in controlling health and safety risks in Energy from Waste

Undoubtedly there have been a number of improvements in the waste sector over recent years, but activities in the sector remain inherently more complex and dangerous than other industries. The challenges that need to be address are also changing as technology and developments in waste processing and treatment evolve. EfW is an obvious example of this and there are serious concerns in particular about the possible health risks of emissions from energy from waste facilities

Whilst the emissions have received much media attention, one must not forget about the importance of ensuring that the whole process is safe for those working at EfW plants. Waste has to be collected (posing risks to members of the public and a variety of site and access issues); it has to be sorted, processed and recovered (often using large powerful machinery); and then transported to its final destination. Where that is an EfW plant, it has to be received and stored, subjected to thermal treatment using extremely high temperatures (with safety as well as fire and explosion risks), and the resulting emissions managed (which are monitored and regulated by the Environment Agency through the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control regime).

HSE data published in November 2023 shows that there were 6 fatal injuries to workers in 2022/2023 in the waste industry (in comparison to an annual average of 5 fatalities over the five-year period 2018/19 – 2022/23).  On a positive note, there were 0 fatal injuries to members of the public in 2022/23.  According to average RIDDOR data over 2018/19 – 2022/23 received by the HSE, the biggest cause of fatal accidents were caused by: individuals being struck by moving vehicles (46%); individuals being struck by moving (including flying) objects (21%); and individuals coming into contact with moving machinery (17%).   HSE data confirms that the fatal injury rate in the waste sector is 4.08 per 100,000 workers; around 10 times the all industry rate.

Looking at non-fatal injuries, the Labour Force Survey confirms that 4,000 workers in the waste sector sustained non-fatal injuries at work, averaged over 2016/17 – 2022/23.  RIDDOR data from the HSE for 2018/19 – 2022/23 shows that 32% were attributable to slips, trips, falls (on the same level); 25% were caused whilst carrying or lifting; and 12% were struck by moving (including flying and falling) objects.   HSE confirms that 43% were from public sector employers and 57% from private sector employers (with the public sector estimated to account for around 33% of employment in the sector).

Ill-health, particularly mental health, is also now a major HSE focus.  In the waste sector, there were an estimated 5,000 workers suffering from work related ill health (either new or long-standing) averaged over the period 2014/15-2022/23.  The vast majority, 82%, related to musculoskeletal disorders or stress, depression and anxiety – something we know comes at significant financial cost to businesses as well as the impact on the individual.  The data equates to around 3.9% of workers in the waste sector reporting they are suffering from work-related ill-health, which currently stands higher than those in the manufacturing, transportation, construction and agriculture, forestry and fishing industries. 

Compliance with health and safety regulations is vital in mitigating the issues highlighted above, and ensuring the success of the business and the safety of employees and the wider community.  There is a clear need to be proactive and ensure that health and safety is addressed, systems are put into place, training is provided and this is reviewed and updated as required. Risk assessment and effective control measures which everyone understands and complies with is the key.

A clear challenge for the sector is that it covers a wide range of organisations, from small businesses to national and international corporates, as well as public sector local authorities. But in all cases the health and safety approach is similar. When reviewing your own internal policies and procedures, be sure to give particular attention to ensuring risk assessments are comprehensive; ensuring inspections and maintenance programmes on all equipment and machinery are up to date; ensuring that staff are properly trained on how to operate vehicles and machinery safely; clear walkways and traffic segregation signage; and ensuring that manual handling training is up to date.  Line managers, given the right training, are often best-placed to spot the signs where someone is in need of mental health support in the workplace.

At Bevan Brittan, we recognise and understand the challenges you face. Our team of health and safety and criminal regulatory law specialists have a vast experience in advising waste and recycling companies in all aspects of compliance, enforcement and litigation, and are able to provide both proactive and reactive advice. Our proactive approach in developing your processes will enhance your health and safety practices, but if the worst does happen, you will be glad to have our engaged and knowledgeable legal specialists familiar with your business and working as part of your team.

Bevan Brittan supporting the EfW Sector

We are delighted to be once again sponsoring and exhibiting at the EfW Conference on 6 and 7 March 2024. Nadeem Arshad and Nathan Bradberry will be chairing sessions on carbon capture, ETS and heat networks.

Our team look forward to welcoming you at stand 13.

If you have any specific queries on how we at Bevan Brittan can help you with health and safety concerns, please contact Louise Mansfield or learn more about our Energy & Resource Management Team here.

EfW Conference 2024

Find more content from sponsors and speakers in the run up to the conference in our EfW conference 2024 room

Please sign in or register for FREE

If you are a registered user on Energy from Waste Network, please sign in