WMW’s Malcolm Bates on Very Real Dangers of Working in the Waste Industry

BLOG: Waste & Recycling Professional – A Job to Die For?

Malcolm Bates discusses the shocking 50% increase in deaths in the UK’s waste and recycling industry from 2016 to 2017 and calls for the global industry to get the issue ‘out in the open’.

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Malcolm Bates discusses the shocking 50% increase in deaths in the UK’s waste and recycling industry from 2016 to 2017 and calls for the global industry to get the issue ‘out in the open’.

 

To be honest, I’m not the sort of journalist that is big on ‘statistics’. Because I suggest that like ‘facts’, they can sometimes spoil a good story. But here’s a statistic that recently caught my eye. It comes from the GMB Union, one of the largest labour organisations in the UK.

As you might expect, the Union press release complained that, as a result of more than a decade of UK Government restrictions on what is called ‘public sector pay’ (even though many workers are confusingly employed by commercially-owned contractors), wages have fallen by almost eight percent in real terms since 2011.

Naturally, this is of considerable concern to a Trades Union at any time – after all, they are there to help improve the wages and working conditions of their members. So the fact that this annual reduction in the spending power of workers in waste and recycling comes against a backdrop of large hikes in executive pay might be said to be ‘adding insult to injury’. It does. But in more ways than one, it seems.

Firstly, it is clearly an insult that ‘executives’ should receive a percentage increase in pay and bonus payments greater than the figure awarded to the rest of the workforce. Surely it is only fair that all the workforce shares in any bonus? After all, they will have all contributed to any success.

Surprisingly, however, the issue of pay is not the central theme of the GMB Union’s press release – it’s the ‘injury’ aspect that is top of the agenda. As well as what might be termed ‘the low status’ of public sector workers in the UK.

In other words, the GMB Union is saying that the workers that undertake the essential task of helping to keep UK towns and cities clean, tidy and safe for the rest of the population are treated as second class citizens – with increasing attacks on them by other road users a growing concern.

But wait, it gets worse. Worse than ‘injury’? Sadly, yes. The GMB reports that there has been “a fifty percent increase” in the deaths of waste and recycling operatives in the UK during 2017, compared to 2016.

True, in real terms, the figure is ‘only’ twelve compared to eight the year before. But remember, the UK is one of the most highly-regulated nations on the planet so – and here’s where my grasp of statistics gets sticky – if 12 waste operatives died in the UK in a single year, serving a population of 70 million – how many may have lost their lives this year, globally?

You will have to do the math, but the population of the US and the EU alone is more than 700 million. And that’s without factoring in other national markets that might be said to have lower standards of safety legislation.

Our industry needs to get this issue out in the open. And fix it. Cleaning up after the rest of us shouldn’t be a potentially deadly occupation, should it

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