Waste and recycling firms face wave of HSE inspections

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is launching a crack-down on the waste and recycling sector this autumn with the aim of rooting out firms that are failing to protect employees’ health.

During October–December 2019, the HSE will undertake a programme of inspections among waste and recycling businesses, targeting one-in-three premises in which poor health and safety performance has been identified by other regulators such as the Environment Agency and local authorities.

Businesses found to be in breach of health and safety regulations could face large fines with the ultimate sanction being criminal prosecution.

Rod Hunt, partner with global law firm Clyde & Co’s nationally recognised SHE Regulatory Department, said: “The UK’s waste and recycling industry is a priority sector for the HSE.

“For the worse type of offending behaviour by large companies, the potential fines in the event of a criminal conviction are eye-watering. These will typically involve cases where arrangements fall far below industry standards and issues have been raised previously but have not been addressed or lessons learned, or where profit has been put before safety.”

According to HSE data, each year 5% of workers in the waste and recycling sector are injured, a rate double that for industry as a whole.

Referring to the waste and recycling sector, the HSE’s business plan for 2019-20 states: “Building on previous campaigns, inspection activity will focus specifically on the management of maintenance activities and safe isolation practices to prevent fatal and serious incidents within this industry. We will also inspect selected premises to assess how effectively the health risks associated with exposure to bioaerosols are being managed.”

Offering advice on how to prepare for HSE inspections, Rod Hunt said: “Firms need to ensure that their procedures and arrangements for activities the HSE's inspections will focus on are adequate.

“Businesses need to ensure that all staff including new starters have been trained in those procedures and, where appropriate, refresher training has been given. They should also reinforce to supervisors the need to ensure those arrangements are being complied with, to include ensuring any issues highlighted during previous audits and inspections have been addressed.”

Mr Hunt also noted that appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) must have been provided and be in good working order.

In May, Clyde & Co’s SHE team held its annual Health and Safety Forum, at which the HSE’s new drive was discussed. In broad terms, it was agreed that businesses and their leaders who failed to appropriately manage risks associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and occupational lung disease (OLD) would be a focus for the HSE.

According to HSE data, during 2018–19, 147 people were killed while at work and 71,000 employee injuries were reported.  In 2017/18, there were an estimated 5,000 work-related ill health cases in the waste industry alone and three- quarters of these were suffering from MSDs or stress, depression or anxiety.

Introducing the seminar in May, Rod Hunt noted that the HSE was seeking to maximise publicity from its enforcement activity. This, he said, would lead to reputational damage for employers found to be in breach of legislation.

Clyde & Co’s SHE Regulatory Department specialises in advising businesses faced with criminal investigation and enforcement action by regulatory bodies such as the HSE.

Clyde & Co is a member of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and its SHE team members belong to the Chartered Institute of Waste Management. The team are also ambassadors for the ESA’s Right Waste, Right Place initiative.

Rod Hunt is a former prosecutor for the Environment Agency while his colleague Dr Anna Willetts is a former environmental consultant and now a qualified lawyer.