Recycling collections for flats - health and safety

The consequences if there is a fire, accident or injury at a block of flats can be extremely serious and risks can be greater than in houses (e.g. a fire in a block of flats could spread quickly and have a greater impact than a fire in a house).  This section provides:

  • Advice on conducting risk assessments
  • Links to relevant legislation
  • An outline of the responsibilities of different stakeholders

About health and safety for flats collection schemes

There are high costs and penalties for breaches of health and safety regulations and costly personal compensation claims could be brought by injured parties.  Most health and safety matters are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) with some enforcement also by local authorities and the fire service.

This section is focused on providing some basic information about managing health and safety for flats collection schemes.  It is not intended to be exhaustive.  Local authorities need to investigate risks with partners and undertake risk assessments before recycling schemes launch.

Relevant legislation

Key legislation relevant to health and safety for flats collection schemes includes:

Controlling risk

There are two main areas of a recycling collection scheme where risk control measures can be applied.

1. Designing the collection scheme and safe system of work.  This is the stage that provides the opportunity to properly identify hazards and assess the level of risk. This process helps identify the measures necessary to control risks, so far as is reasonably practicable and can help to identify the most appropriate system for controlling risk in the particular circumstances.

2. Managing the risk.  Once safe systems of work have been identified the control measures identified through the risk assessment need to be put into practice.  This will require a safety management system that regularly monitors and reviews the use and efficacy of the risk control measures (see “Successful health and safety management” HSG 65 produced by the HSE for further details).

Risk assessment

Before a new scheme is launched, a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks should be carried out to identify whether the control measures in place are adequate.  Experience has shown that a broad assessment of the risks of the scheme (i.e. taking a non-specific overview of the hazards and risks associated with a collection scheme) will need to be supplemented with assessment of risks particular to an individual block of flats (e.g. whether local anti-social behaviour might increase the risks associated with the recyclign scheme).

Changes to collection scheme arrangements will need to be suitably and sufficiently assessed prior to and during implementation.

Those carrying out risk assessments should be competent to identify hazards and need to ensure that the process is consistent with existing Health and Safety policies. 

Those involved in delivering a recycling or food waste collection scheme will need to be adequately trained to identify risks or hazards and seek advice before proceeding with an activity, to allow for the sudden or unforeseen changes in circumstances.

The HSE has produced guidance on how to undertake a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in its booklet 5 steps to Risk Assessments.

The “5 steps” are:

  1. Identify the hazards.
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how.
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on control measures.
  4. Record significant findings and implement the controls.
  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary.

Duties for risk management

It should be noted that there are usually several duty holders involved in the delivery of recycling collection schemes for flats:

  • the local authority in terms of managing the collection scheme;
  • the contractor/operator for delivery of the collection scheme; and
  • the management organisation for control of the premises.

Each duty holder will have distinct duties. Co-operation and communication between the various duty holders is recommended to ensure all control measures are identified and that risks are managed appropriately. 

The local authority: Where an external contractor is appointed to operate a collection scheme the client (generally the local authority) has a duty to procure a safe collection scheme and to appoint a contractor capable of delivering a safe scheme. Appropriate consideration should be given to health and safety and the best way of delivering a service safely at the procurement stage. It is very difficult to work out the best way of delivering a service safely if a poorly designed system is procured from the outset. 

Although the local authority does not have to specify how a collection scheme should operate, it retains a responsibility for ensuring that schemes are delivered safely.  The local authority should inform managing agents of the potential risks posed by a recycling scheme.  There is a cost to management organisations of completing or updating risk assessments so local authorities should be prepared for some management organisations to attempt to recover the expense of this.

The contractor/operator: Waste and recycling collection schemes in flats can be operated by the public, private and community sector.  These schemes can be contracted out by local authorities and public/private waste producers.  Whichever arrangement is in place clients and contractors will each have duties to ensure that the scheme is suitable and safe, before and during the life of the contract. 

The management organisation: It is the responsibility of the management organisation to conduct risk assessments for each block of flats they manage and make necessary safeguards to reduce risk as much as possible.  They will also need to ensure that their Public Liability, Public Indemnity and Buildings Insurance sufficiently covers all potential claims relating to any newly introduced recycling scheme.  The management organisation should ensure that there are no hazards such as uneven surfaces at the site.  The local authority and collection contractor need to satisfy themselves that the appropriate actions have been taken by the management organisation.

Top tips

Run stakeholder consultations sessions to identify what key risks different stakeholders feel should be addressed during risk assessments.  Operative and caretaker involvement is extremely important during risk assessments to utilise their ‘on the ground’ experience and to get staff buy-in for new scheme. 

Where recycling collection schemes from flats involve different collection techniques, it is useful to separately assess the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for collection operatives and caretakers (for example; a different style of protective footwear may be required due to the increased risks of the constant use of stairs). 

Speak to other departments, particularly housing and social services teams, to see if they keep a record of instances of violence/aggression towards their staff at particular estates, blocks or households. The risks to collection crews of collection from these areas can then be assessed and managed.

Engage with the local fire authority to discuss their views relating to fire risk regarding the schemes you are planning.

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