Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

UK waste sector targeted in latest HSE enforcement inspection campaign

Out-Law News | 28 Oct 2022 | 12:54 pm | 2 min. read

The waste and recycling sector in the UK is to come under tighter scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) amid fears relating to its safety record.

The UK regulator responsible for workplace health, safety and welfare has launched an enforcement inspection campaign targeting the waste and recycling industry, which it regards as a “high risk sector” due to the unacceptable number of fatal and serious injuries over the years. 

The waste sector accounts for only around 0.3% of the workforce in Great Britain, but is one of the most dangerous industries for workers in terms of work-related ill health and injuries, according to HSE’s 2021 Waste Statistics in Great Britain report (22-page / 534KB PDF).

The fatal injury rate in the waste sector, which is 6.99 per 100,000 workers, is around 17 times the average rate across all industries, and was surpassed only by agriculture, fisheries and fishing over the past five years. Furthermore, an estimated average of 4,000 non-fatal injuries to waste sector workers occurred each year over the last seven years, making it the third riskiest sector in terms of work-related ill health.

In response to the findings, the HSE has said that its two priorities for the sector are to reduce the number of people being struck by moving vehicles and to reduce the number of workers being caught in moving machinery. Together, these issues account for the majority of serious and fatal injuries in the sector.

The planned inspections in 2022-23, therefore, will particularly focus on machinery guarding and workplace transport at waste and recycling sites.

Betts Zoe

Zoe Betts

Legal Director

Whilst transport and machinery will be a focus of the regulator, inspections will not be limited to those areas. The HSE has sent a clear message to the sector - make sure you meet your safety and health obligations and can demonstrate compliance

According to the HSE’s Waste & Recycling Sector Workplan 2022-23 (25-page / 357KB PDF), the main risk factors in relation to transport include workplace transport arrangements on site; suitability and maintenance of vehicles; and the competence and management of drivers. For machinery guarding and isolation, the main risk factors remain preventing access to dangerous parts of machinery; and the failure to develop, implement and supervise appropriate procedures for clearing blockages and maintenance, such as isolation and lock-off.

Although the campaign is characterised as targeted inspections, Pinsent Masons’ workplace health and safety experts warn that the inspections will be a wide-ranging enforcement exercise.

“Whilst transport and machinery will be a focus of the regulator, inspections will not be limited to those areas.  Inspectors will have regard to the full range of relevant safety and health obligations in deciding whether any enforcement action is required. The HSE has sent a clear message to the sector - make sure you meet your safety and health obligations and can demonstrate compliance,” said health and safety expert Zoe Betts of Pinsent Masons.

Enforcement statistics (16-page / 462KB PDF) show that the number of cases prosecuted by the HSE and, in Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), had declined in recent years, but the average fine per case jumped up year-on-year. In 2020-21, the average fine per case was £145,000, a 35% increase from £107,000 in 2019-20.

There were seven prosecution cases in the waste sector last year, resulting in an 86% conviction rate for at least one offence and £1.4 million in total fines. The average fine was around £232,000 per conviction, 60% higher than the all-industry average, according to the HSE.

“The heightened scrutiny by the HSE on the waste sector mirrors the focus on the construction industry in recent years which has resulted in marked improvements in the rates of serious incidents and fatalities,” said Zoe Betts.

“The waste sector must acknowledge that the risks are well-known and foreseeable. Failure to address them appropriately is highly likely to result in enforcement action and ever-increasing financial penalties imposed by the regulator and courts,” she said.

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