Health and safety in the waste management sector


risk matrixThe recent launch of the competency framework for the waste management sector is a very welcomed move. While there has been a decline in fatalities in the industry in recent years, there were nevertheless five deaths reported in 2014/5, and 33 in the past five years.

The framework, which was developed by the Scottish Waste Industry Training Competency and Health and Safety (SWITCH) Forum, therefore serves as a useful mechanism going forward to further improve health and safety in the sector.

Evidently there is much work to be done if we are to further improve conditions in the waste management sector. The starting point is the risk assessment, where the severity of the hazard and its potential outcomes are considered in conjunction with other factors including the level of exposure and the numbers of persons exposed and the risk of that hazard being realised. It is important to ensure that the residual risk following implementation of control measures is ‘as low as is reasonably possible (ALARP).

An important consideration that is often forgotten is the perception of risk. Individuals will often tend to respond to a risk or hazard in ways that are consistent to their perceptions, which ultimately influences their behaviour. Understanding public perception is therefore crucial. However, studies have shown that a problem is that stakeholders often have inaccurate beliefs about hazards and their impacts, are unaware of available adjustments, and may have erroneous beliefs about the effectiveness of the adjustments of which they are aware. For example, work by Janis and Mann in 1977 showed that actions are motivated by awareness of the hazard, knowledge of its effects and feelings of personal vulnerability to the potential consequences. This is certainly borne out by some research that a former student of mine Alex Akpieyi conducted within the healthcare waste mangement sector.

In addition, further work by Mileti and Sorensen in 1987 found that frequent exposure to hazard relevant information does not automatically elicit attention and comprehension, let alone the acceptance, personalization, and retention required to initiate hazard adjustments. Stakeholders don’t necessarily need to understand the hazard in order to be motivated enough to prepare, but they do need to believe that the hazard really exists and that protection is needed.

Once the risk have been assessed, it is crucial to establish a risk register. A risk register is a management tool that identifies, assesses, and manages risks down to acceptable levels. It provides a framework in which problems that threaten the delivery of the anticipated benefits are captured. Actions are then instigated to reduce the probability and the potential impact of specific risks. Important factors to include in the register include the following:

  • Dates: As the register is a living document, it is important to record the date that risks are identified or modified. Optional dates to include are the target and completion dates.
  • Description of the Risk: A phrase that describes the risk.
  • Risk Type (business, project, stage): Classification of the risk: Business risks relate to delivery of achieved benefit;, project risks relate to the management of the project such as timeframes and resources, and stage risks are risks associated with a specific stage of the plan.
  • Likelihood of Occurrence: Provides an assessment on how likely it is that this risk will occur. Examples are: L-Low M-Medium and H-High.
  • Severity of Effect: Provides an assessment of the impact that the occurrence of this risk would have on the project.
  • Countermeasures: Actions to be taken to prevent, reduce, or transfer the risk. This may include production of contingency plans.
  • Owner: The individual responsible for ensuring that risks are appropriately engaged with countermeasures undertaken.
  • Status: Indicates whether this is a current risk or if risk can no longer arise and impact the project


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