Councils should not mix and match green waste collections using bags if their refuse vehicles are only suitable for lifting wheeled bins, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has suggested.
The organisation warns that local authorities offering canvas bag collections alongside a wheeled bin service for green waste could endanger the workers who must manually empty them.
It suggests vehicles fitted with an automatic lifting mechanism could catch workers who empty the sacks by the jacket sleeve, and lift them into the machine.
The safety warning follows Reigate and Banstead borough council’s decision to withdraw its garden waste bags, after a local HSE inspector identified safety failings in the collection method.
Following a Prohibition Notice served to the council in September 2012, Reigate opted to have its workers isolate the lifting arms on its vehicles while undertaking canvas bag collections but recently decided to scrap the bags altogether in order to save time on rounds.
A spokeswoman for HSE said the Reigate and Banstead case was an individual assessment that should not be compared with other local authorities, although she confirmed bag and bin collections should not be mixed where there was a “foreseeable risk” of operatives becoming caught in a vehicle mechanism.
Many local authorities in England operate an optional wheeled bin or bag service for green waste because of limited space outside some properties but few are aware of precedents where worker safety has been compromised by the collection method.
A spokeswoman for Reading borough council, where residents can use a canvas bag for green waste, said: “Reading refuse collection crews have not had any experience of this issue as green waste bags are emptied into a bin first and then tipped into the back loader. There are no current plans to change garden waste collection solely to bins.”
Meanwhile the London borough of Havering said that while it was planning to deliver a service for green waste bags from October this year, its position “differs” from that of Reigate and Banstead.
A representative for the council said: “We do not offer garden waste collections in re-usable sacks so crews do not have to empty bags. We offer a wheeled bin service for garden waste, but we will be introducing a compostable sack service in addition to this from October. As these will be single-use sacks again, there won’t be the issue of emptying.”
However, some councils recognised there are dangers associated with the collection of green waste sacks. Bradford metropolitan district council recently replaced its bags with brown bins in order to reduce the “lifting of heavy bags” for both residents and collection crews.
And, Hackney council revealed that since 2013 there have been two accidents involving its recycling workforce, which have been the result of handling recycling sacks.
Councillor Feryal Demirci, cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said: “The council operates a green sacks service for recycling for street-based households. Each household gets 30 sacks every 12-week period. More can be ordered.
“The HSE monitors Hackney’s safe working practices, and the principle of handling a sack for waste or recycling is well established.”