HSE has launched a campaign of enforcement inspections, targeting the waste and recycling sector.
In their Waste Statistics in Great Britain report for 2021, HSE placed the fatal injury rate for the sector at 6.99 per 100,000 workers. That’s 17 times the average rate across all industries, second only to Agriculture and Fisheries.
At one recycling centre in the West Midlands, an employee named Stuart Towns walked into an area underneath a hopper, which housed powerful engines feeding a conveyor belt for scrap metal processing.
This area should have been gated off to prevent access, but the gate was broken. There was no shut down or isolation procedure for cleaning and maintenance, so anyone was free to walk inside.
Mr Towns was discovered, minutes later, with catastrophic head injuries inflicted by the machinery. He died at the scene.
Alutrade admitted corporate manslaughter and were fined £2 million.
Separate fines and legal costs were imposed on the managing director, director, and health and safety manager. A spokesperson for the company said afterward:
‘We accept the company is responsible for Stuart’s manslaughter by virtue of gross negligence. We fell short of the required standard by allowing him to work in the immediate vicinity of machinery when it was unguarded by lockable gates.’
Fatal accidents don’t happen in isolation. They follow a pattern of dangerous behaviours, such as those at Alutrade’s site. CCTV recorded workers (including Mr Towns) habitually jumping into hoppers full of scrap metal, and even climbing over rapid-moving conveyor belts to clear blockages in the system.
As an industry, waste and recycling faces some harsh scrutiny from HSE in the coming months.
The construction industry, another high-risk industry, has now seen big improvements in its serious incident and fatality rates.
The first step is recognising the scale of the task ahead. Seven Waste sector-related cases were prosecuted by HSE last year, with an 86% conviction rate.
These companies were fined a total of £1.4 million between them, averaging at £232,000 per conviction.