Preventing and controlling health risks in the waste industry
If you work in waste management, according to the 2013/2014 annual report by HSE, you’ve chosen a career in one of the most dangerous industries to work in throughout the UK! While the industry only accounts for around 0.5% of employees in Britain, 2.6% of all reported injuries are in this sector.
Don’t worry, while health risks in the waste industry might be plentiful, there are a number of systems and processes that can be put in place to improve workplace health and wellbeing.
Assessing the risks
In order to identify where control measures are needed, it is a legal requirement for employers to carry out a risk assessment of their activities. This will identify any hazards, assess the risks that relate to them, and highlight the individuals who may potentially be affected.
By identifying areas where control measures and systems of work are necessary, methods can be put in place for reducing or eliminating any risks.
Ill health from potentially hazardous substances can occur in a number of ways, including:
- Skin contact – through cuts and abrasions or the eye’s mucous membrane
- Injection – through sharps injuries
- Ingestion – through hand-to-mouth contact, usually when eating, drinking or smoking
- Inhalation – through the lungs
Health hazards can also be encountered when collecting and sorting waste and recyclables. This could be due to coming into contact with:
- Faeces in nappies, incontinence pads or stoma bags
- Animal waste (including straw and hay) from the litter trays, hutches and pens
- Dead animal carcases
- Rodent infestations
- Hazardous liquids, such as paint, varnishes and cleaning products
- Car batteries
- Blood-borne infectious material in used needles and syringes
- Broken glass and other sharp items
Preventing and controlling risks
An employer has a duty of care to prevent or eliminate exposure to hazardous substances. At the very least, if the hazards can’t be entirely eradicated, exposure should be adequately controlled. Control of exposure should follow the hierarchy set out in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).
It’s worth remembering that, although vaccinations and inoculations are useful additional measures, they don’t guarantee that infections will not occur. In a minority of people, the vaccine does not trigger an immune response, meaning that they gain no protection.
All control measures should be supported by clear instructions for the task that’s involved and training for all staff (including casual and agency staff) in the operation of those control measures. Information should be made available to ensure that others are aware of any potential dangers. Regular checks and monitoring should be undertaken to make sure the system is being followed and working as planned.
Any business with employees who are exposed to substances that may have an adverse effect on their health and well-being has a statutory requirement to undertake a health surveillance programme. This is particularly important in the waste industry and enables companies to monitor and measure the effects of any exposure within the working environment
Occupational Health Surveillance must be supported by the findings of risk assessments, where the assessments have identified risks to individuals from exposure to environmental factors such as noise, vibration, chemicals, dust, etc.
Health surveillance can be conducted by Occupational Health experts. The results of any tests are then sent to the employer, allowing them to determine the effectiveness of the control measures that have been put in place. Where necessary, OH professionals can also make recommendations to provide further support to individuals and improve conditions.
How can we help?
At Fusion Occupational Health, we work with some of the biggest waste management companies in the UK, providing. We provide support to help them protect themselves and provide a safer, healthier working environment for their employees.
We are able to back up our health surveillance programme with a fully-rounded occupational health solution which will enhance your employees’ health and wellbeing, and potentially reduce absenteeism. We can do this through additional services including work health assessments, occupational health management referrals, drivers’ medicals and drug & alcohol testing.
If you are in the waste industry and need some support with your health surveillance/screening, contact us today.