The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency (EA)/Natural Resources Wales (NRW) have agreed to share information regarding poorly performing waste sites. In practical terms, this could mean that operators may be targeted by both regulators, with some visits being carried out jointly with the HSE and EA/NRW.
An information sharing agreement has been developed to enable inspectors at the HSE and EA/NRW to share information with other regulators. The HSE recognise that EA/NRW inspectors visit waste sites more often than HSE inspectors and therefore feel that this sharing of information regarding poorly performing sites would be useful in identifying health and safety concerns. This information sharing will primarily be concerned with the handling of asbestos waste in accordance with the ‘2015-16 Workplan: Inspections at Waste Transfer Stations Handling Asbestos Waste’, but will also cover other health and safety concerns observed by EA/NRW inspectors, including workplace transport, welfare provision, machinery guarding and application of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER).
The 2015-16 Workplan sets out the HSE inspection initiative which targets waste transfer station (WTS) and associated skip hire activities where asbestos containing material (ACM) may be present in the waste.
According to the HSE, inspections carried out by HSE inspectors during 2014-15 identified evidence of poor ACM management and handling at some waste transfer stations. In addition, EA and NRW continue to be concerned that some waste transfer stations may be receiving ACM without permits and that many permitted sites may be operating with poor standards, giving rise to health and safety as well as environmental concerns.
Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, responsible for about 4,500 deaths each year. It was used extensively in the UK as a building material, especially for fireproofing and insulation, from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. Any building constructed prior to 2000 could contain ACMs so the refurbishment or demolition of these could result in ACM ending up in the waste stream. The main legal requirements applicable to work with asbestos are the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 which applies to work with licensed and non-licensable ACM. While the main priority for this inspection initiative will be waste transfer stations with a permit to accept asbestos waste, the focus will be on sites run by small enterprises (employing less than 50) or micro-businesses (employing less than 10).
According to the HSE, the specific areas of asbestos-related concern for waste transfer stations are likely to be:
- Assessing risks of work that may expose employees to asbestos (Regulation 6);
- Licensing work with asbestos (Regulation 8);
- Notifying work with asbestos (Regulation 9);
- Information instruction and training (Regulation 10);
- Preventing or reducing exposure to asbestos so far as is reasonably practicable (Regulation 11);
- Using and maintaining control measures (Regulations 12 & 13);
- Preventing or reducing the spread of asbestos (Regulation 16);
- Storing, distributing and labelling raw asbestos and asbestos waste (Regulation 24).
The HSE has provided clearly defined information to the EA/NRW regarding specific health and safety concerns to be reported to them. This includes the standards they would expect to be in place for the handling of asbestos waste, for example:
- Storage of asbestos waste, i.e. lockable sealed skip;
- Appropriate design of the waste transfer station with adequate arrangements and procedures in place to ensure that exposure to asbestos is prevented;
- Safe systems of work and procedures to deal with emergencies, non-conformance and spillages;
- Decontamination of skips used for storage of asbestos waste;
- Training for site staff, including asbestos awareness training and procedures for working with asbestos;
- PPE and personal decontamination, including Respiratory Protective Equipment – disposable FFP3 masks or half-masks with a P3 filter, and face-fit tested, type 5 coveralls and cleanable lace-less boots or wellingtons.
While this information sharing agreement with the HSE and EA/NRW may prove to be beneficial to the regulators in saving time and resources, the impact it will have on smaller operators who are trying to run a legitimate business remains to be seen.