South west waste employers told to boost health & safety regime for workers dealing with coronavirus waste

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union which has 900 members at various sites across the region, has serious concerns that its members could be handling Covd-19 waste from contaminated collections, such as care homes, without adequate protective protection equipment (PPE).

The majority of sites are operated by outsourced contractors, although a number are council-run.

Unite is calling for employers to adopt best practice, but if they fail to put workers’ safety first, the union will ask local councils to intervene urgently so that the highest standards are met.

Unite regional officer Ken Fish said: “We have grave concerns for workers’ safety within the waste sector. Our members across the south west region are exposed to risk from the start of their working day.

“These workers collect waste from our doorsteps, care homes and commercial business, but we think they may be paying a hidden – and potentially deadly -price. 

“Workers are sharing too many stories of not being able to maintain social distancing, travelling with excessive operatives in the collection vehicles with no additional PPE, not having access to toilets and hand washing facilities and no reasonable working standards in place for taking their breaks.

“Workers are having to collect contaminated waste from care homes that have positive tests, without adequate PPE and, on most occasions, they may not even be aware of the significant additional risk. 

“It is understood that waste volumes are now at a similar level to Christmas and this has an impact on workloads with the additional pressure on the collection of green waste and the reopening of some of the recycling centres.

“Inadequate safety measures are completely unacceptable and we urge employers to engage proactively with our experienced health & safety reps when risk assessments are being produced.

“If this does happen, we will be asking councils, which pay the outsourced contractors, to intervene urgently.” 

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