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New Greenwich research could improve absence rates among waste collection workers

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University research suggests absence rates could be reduced by using wheeled bins

New research shows that the use of wheeled bins is linked to lower sickness absence rates among council waste collection workers.

Changing waste collection systems used by councils in the UK could reduce staff absences due to Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), a new study has shown.

Research by the University of Greenwich, published in the Resources, Conservation and Recycling journal, has investigated the relationship between waste collection methods and staff absences due to MSDs.

MSDs include any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper or lower limbs or the back and can be worsened by workplace conditions.

The research demonstrates that the use of wheeled bins is associated with lower staff absences due to MSDs, in comparison to the use of boxes, baskets and sacks. Even lower absences were linked to the use of larger four-wheeled bin, when handled by two workers.

The researchers used staff absence data from 15 Local Authorities in the UK who provided records with information about workers' roles. This allowed for absence rates to be calculated in relation to job type. Using software platform, the team identified statistically significant relationships between types of waste collection services by comparing absence rates for MSDs with non-MSDs for each primary job role.

Dr David Thomas, an Academic Portfolio Lead in the School of Design at the University of Greenwich and member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health's (IOSH) Environmental and Waste Management Group Committee, said: "This study shows that there is a clear pattern between the type of waste collection management systems procured by Local Authorities and staff absences, providing a method which can be used by organisations to identify relationships between work and ill health absence in order to improve health and safety working conditions.

"There are over 60,000 waste collection workers in the UK and employers should evaluate ill health risks before new waste collections systems are adopted and rolled out. They should also monitor absence rates specific to work activity to ensure that theymove to more sustainable systems that create less MSDs.The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health provides a range of useful guidance for employers and employees about how to prevent and manage MSDs in the workplace:https://www.iosh.com/resources-and-research/our-resources/occupational-health-toolkit/musculoskeletal-disorders/"

Andy Robertson, Chair of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health's Environmental and Waste Management Group, 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.

"Having been key to IOSH Environmental & Waste Management Group's development of a free training package for Local Authorities, which is aimed at the development of Line Managers' competence to safely manage teams carrying out municipal waste collection, this research further supports the direction Local Authorities should be taking in order to protect the health of workers collecting municipal waste on their behalf. It is hoped that Local Authorities who still using boxes and bags not only take notice of the research results, but importantly take action to reduce risk to those collecting waste on their behalf by changing to wheelie bins."

The findings support research by the University of Greenwich and Glasgow Caledonian University published in the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health's (IOSH) Policy and Practice in Health and Safety journal earlier this year.

This research showed that waste collection systems used throughout the UK could be the cause of long-term musculoskeletal issues for workers and suggested that organisations should discontinue 'box type' collections on MSD grounds as a matter of urgency.

The paper, 'The identification of the domestic waste collection system associated with the least operative musculoskeletal disorders using human resource absence data',  which is published by the Resources, Conservation and Recycling journal, is available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921344919303192 .