Councils urged to bin recycling boxes after study reveals refuse-collector health issues

Mon, 28 Jan 2019 08:19:00 GMT
Professor Billy Hare
Professor Billy Hare

Recycling bags and boxes put out with household and business rubbish could lead to an increase in health problems for refuse collectors, a Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) expert has warned.

In a joint study with the University of Greenwich, a GCU-developed body-mapping method was used to study the effects of lifting various types of rubbish containers by workers across a four-year period in an unnamed local authority.

The study revealed that while wheelie bins are beneficial to refuse collectors, all other types of separated waste are causing long-term musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) across the UK.

Researchers used an Average Pain Count to examine lower back, shoulder, neck and upper spine complaints developed by refuse workers collecting either wheelie bins, rubbish sacks, recycling bags and boxes − such as those used for paper or bottles.

They found wheelie bins were the least likely to cause pain but boxes were the most likely and called for them to be discontinued by local authorities to protect the long-term health of workers “as a matter of urgency”, particularly with an ageing workforce.

Professor Billy Hare, who headed the GCU team during the study, said: “If we want our refuse workers to work more productively for longer, and with fewer health problems, then the use of wheeled bins is an essential starting point.

“The negative health effects of using sacks, baskets and boxes for waste collection have been known for some time now, but the research up until this point has been purely lab-based, which some find difficult to relate to their day-to-day work. This study has used real-life field data for the first time, to dispel any doubts held by local authorities over the benefits of using wheeled bins.”

The results of the research were published by the journal Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

The study showed measures of MSD-related pain declined “significantly” after the introduction of wheelie bins in 2013 compared to the previous year, but increased by 2014 when the authority introduced additional sacks, bags and baskets for garden, food and other waste.

Lower back pain was caused as a result of “bending, twisting, lifting and sorting recycling into different components and bins” the study found, while greater job rotation among workers on the various tasks also helped prevent higher rates of MSDs.

Andy Robertson, IOSH Environmental & Waste Management Group Chair, said: “Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show around 70% of all workers in the Waste Management industry are involved in municipal household and commercial collections.

“These collections account for about 80% of all the reported injuries, with the most common being musculoskeletal disorders.”

The HSE suggests that refuse-collection workers are part of an ageing workforce because of higher life expectancy and older retirement ages.

Billy Hare