Are we safe enough in the waste sector?

Written by: Dr Stephen Wise | Published:
Dr Stephen Wise, associate director, environment & infrastructure Europe, Amec Foster Wheeler

Dr Stephen Wise, associate director, environment & infrastructure Europe, Amec Foster Wheeler, takes a look at health & safety in the waste sector.

When I joined Amec Foster Wheeler at the start of June it was made very clear and very quickly that health and safety is the top priority in the business.

As a company we support a number of sectors including oil and gas, mining and nuclear, as well as the waste sector. All of these sectors have a very high level of risk. It's for us to properly assess and manage risk while conducting our business in a safe manner to ensure the safety of our staff, clients and contractors.

Across the sectors that Amec Foster Wheeler operates, the waste sector has the highest number of fatalities. In the UK there has been an average of nine deaths per year since 2010 and a fatality rate of nearly six per 100,000 it is only second to agriculture as the most dangerous working environment.

At a recent health and safety conference by the Renewable Energy Association (REA), I was reminded of how dangerous the sector can be with the tragic deaths earlier this year of workers at a recycling operation in Birmingham.

The sector covers a multitude of different operations: from the manually intensive collection of materials and waste from households and businesses; to the operation of complex plants including materials recycling facilities, anaerobic digestion plants and energy from waste plants that are used to sort, recover and dispose of materials and waste. These operations are undertaken by a range of companies: from large multinationals down to small to medium- sized enterprises (SMEs). I am sure that no company goes out of its way to create an unsafe working environment but do all companies put the health and safety of their staff first? Sadly, with the number of health and safety prosecutions, serious injuries and fatalities, this may not always be the case.

Great strides have been taken, as evidenced by the work of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and its members which has led to significant improvements. However, not all companies are members of the ESA or other trade associations such as the REA which seek to promote and improve health and safety.

As a sector we need to ensure that health and safety is the top priority for every organisation irrespective of size. This is where companies such as Amec Foster Wheeler can help by working with designers, technology suppliers, contractors and operators right from the start of a project to ensure that health and safety is designed into the plant, forms a core part of operating methodologies and becomes part of the culture.

As an organisation we are proactive in sharing and promoting our health and safety ethos and culture with our clients and contractors. We strive to make sure that they treat health and safety as seriously as we do, as well as using our design and engineering expertise to build safe into plants as ‘inherently safer designs’.

While we will operate in environments that can be challenging and dangerous, we must do our utmost to assess and eliminate the risks and make the environment as safe as possible. We must never become complacent and must be aware of our surroundings at all times and follow the proper procedures. We must do the right thing.

Having been involved in this sector for 20 years, I have seen the consequences of serious injuries and fatalities at first hand and it is something that I do not wish on anyone. Health and safety should never be treated as an afterthought or just some company policy. It should be a core part of every organisations’ culture and the first thought before undertaking any action. We should expect that at the end of every day we leave work in the condition that we arrived to return to our loved ones.


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