The study by the University of Greenwich and published by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) warns that waste collection systems using boxes could be causing “significant” long-term musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) for workers.
It adds local authorities should discontinue these services “as a matter of urgency”.
The study identified lower back, shoulder, neck and upper spine as areas of the body where self-reported pain by waste collection workers was highest.
It also found that bin-based waste collection services are associated with fewer MSD outcomes than services including boxes, baskets and bags.
The team observed workers’ experiences of MSDs through body mapping, with workers identifying where they collectively felt pain or discomfort during their work activities and recording the results via a chart or questionnaire.
The study is thought to be the first-time body mapping has been applied as a risk assessment tool for MSDs in waste collection.
“The findings of this research present a timely opportunity for organisations to consider how they protect their workforces,” said Academic Portfolio Lead in the School of Design at the University of Greenwich and a Member of IOSH’s Environmental and Waste Management Group Committee, Dr David Thomas.
“Rather than organisations focusing on generic ‘capability’ for a ‘fit youngster’ they need to consider how they accommodate an ever-increasing ageing workforce when developing systems of work,” added Dr Thomas.
“It is also an opportunity for organisations to accept that their current methods of managing work can create ill-health problems and consider ways to make workforces more sustainable in the future including changing systems of work.”
South Lakeland District Council recently introduced smaller recycling boxes in a bid to protect its staff from back injuries.
The local authority has replaced 55-litre blue recycling boxes with 44-litre boxes in order to reduce the potential risk of MSDs to council staff and members of the public.
In addition, the waste disposal sector has the highest fatality at work rate of any industrial sector here in the UK.
Unison’s Head of Local Government, Jon Richards said: “Workers in the waste sector are in dangerous, physically demanding and stressful roles. Musculoskeletal disorders are among the many common causes of ill health, along with stress, depression, anxiety and road accidents.
“We welcome the findings of this report and the steps outlined to reduce the physical impact on workers.”
The paper – ‘Using body mapping as part of the risk assessment process – a case study’ – is available here.