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November 25, 2013

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The waste management industry needs stronger safety leadership


Geoff Smallwood, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management representative on the WISH steering group and group health and safety and risk manager for Shanks Group plc, on the work WISH is doing to develop stronger safety leadership in the waste management sector.

The increase in the number of bins, boxes and bags outside the average household in Britain is probably the most obvious sign of the changes that have taken place in waste management.

Lurking behind this change is a waste management industry that is virtually unrecognisable to the one we had 20 years ago. It is an industry that is making increasing use of new and emergent technologies. It is required to undertake progressively complex activities and operations. It is also an industry that has one of the worst health and safety performance records in the country.

The British waste management industry has a fatal accident rate some 10 times the all-industry average, and serious accident rates many times that of other sectors. Adversely, the industry has helped Britain improve its household waste recycling rate from less than 10 per cent prior to 2000 to more than 40 per cent today. The challenge for the waste management industry is to match its rising sustainability record with similar improvements in its health and safety performance.

A changing industry such as waste management needs to ensure its safety and risk engineering matches advancing technology. It needs to develop its management systems and processes so they are fit for more complex and diverse activities. It also needs a proactive safety culture to ensure that health and safety is embedded and not bolted-on as an afterthought. The key to a good safety culture is the leadership shown by those at or near the top of an organisation.

The WISH (Waste Industry Safety and Health) Forum was formed 10 years ago to support the industry in its health and safety challenges. WISH consists of representatives from inside and outside the industry, including trade bodies, professional organisations, trade unions, training bodies and the Health and Safety Executive. Over the past decade, WISH has produced an extensive range of waste management specific guidance, conducted research into emergent health and safety issues, provided advice to the industry on specific issues and acted as the central point for safety initiatives across the waste sector.

To provide a focus for its activities in February 2013 WISH released a revitalised strategy at a joint WISH/HSE conference held in Solihull, attended by representatives from across the waste industry. This revitalised strategy has five main goals: involve the workforce; build competence; create healthier and safer workplaces; support SMEs and strong leadership. Under each of these areas, WISH work groups have been formed to progress initiatives aimed at the goals being achieved.

A major part of the Solihull Conference was a series of workshops, one for each of the five goals of the WISH strategy. The aim of the workshops was for the industry to give WISH specific actions they want to be pursued and ask specific questions for WISH to answer. For the leadership workshop one question stood out: “What does good safety leadership look like and how do you measure it?”

This is not an easy question to answer. How does an effective, good safety leader behave? How do they demonstrate their leadership? How do they measure this so that they can improve? Goals are fine, but progress depends on action. Projects and initiatives need to match an industry’s needs, rather than being formulated by safety professionals from an ivory tower. To answer these questions, the first project undertaken by the WISH leadership work group was to produce a safety leadership self-assessment tool. This tool is currently in final draft form.

Central to the tool are two self-assessment matrices. One is aimed at how an organisation approaches safety leadership and the second is for senior persons to assess their own personal safety leadership. The matrices are designed to be completed quickly. Based on the assessments, an organisation and its leaders can formulate action plans and then re-assess themselves periodically to measure their improvement.

To support the central assessment, improvement and re-assessment cycle, the tool also provides guidance on typical exemplary behaviours demonstrated by effective safety leaders. Leaders can take these exemplary behaviours and ask themselves — is this what I do? The table below is an example of guidance from the leadership tool.



Three aspects of effective health and safety leadership

I am a visible leader

I am an involved leader

I am an engaged leader

Example behaviours

 Safety is the first item on all of my meeting agendas

I visit my site/s regularly and specifically to promote and assess health and safety performance and standards — and I take adequate time to do this

I always wear the correct personal protective equipment when on site and I challenge those who do not

I always sign in and out of sites

I always follow all safety rules all of the time and challenge those who do not

I always make sure that everyone I meet when on site knows that I am there to promote and assess safety standards

I never pass by poor practice, unsafe acts or conditions without commenting directly and personally

I always praise good safety practice direct and personally

I take part personally in health and safety meetings between employees and management

I take part personally in serious incident investigations

Safety performance is a key part of how I assess the performance of my direct reports

I set targets for safety performance which I expect to be achieved across all of my organisation

When on site I always talk direct to employees on health and safety and listen to their concerns

I take time to understand employee safety concerns, even when these may be uncomfortable or outside of my expertise

I always take the time to talk with the site safety representative when on site

If an employee raises a health and safety concern with me I always ensure appropriate action is taken

If an employee raises a safety concern with me I always take the time to feedback to them, even if it is only to say that I do not agree with the concern


Leadership is not an easy topic for many people and can be seen as confusing and uncomfortable. The final draft of the WISH Leadership tool was road-tested in November by 50 senior waste industry representatives at an event in London, funded and supported by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

The results of this road-test will be fed back into the final draft of the tool to refine it and ensure that it is fit for purpose for its audience. The aim is for the tool to be released publicly in early 2014 as a WISH document.

Safety leadership is a key component of a good health and safety culture. But it is often a difficult concept to put into practice. The target is for the waste management industry to enhance its safety leadership and by doing this assist it in achieving a safety performance level which is as good as its sustainability record. 

Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing

Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.

This free director’s briefing contains:

  • Key points;
  • Recommendations for employers;
  • Case law;
  • Legal duties.
Barbour EHS

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