Safety experts take season’s goodwill to those sleeping in bins

Special webinar held to address sad and growing problem

While the Christmas story celebrates a magical night in a stable, a sad and dangerous reality of the festive season for a growing number of people sleeping rough in the UK is taking shelter in a waste bin.

Sadly, there will be thousands of vulnerable people who are tempted to do this, not just over Christmas but all year round, risking unimaginable death or injury from crushing by being unknowingly tipped into a bin lorry.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), at least seven people are known to have been killed in this way over the last five years, while waste management company Biffa recorded 101 “near misses” or encounters with people either sleeping in or near its bins during April to December last year.

That’s why members of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) are staging a free webinar, next week, to raise awareness of a problem that’s of growing concern with the current surge in homelessness. The webinar, scheduled for 1.00pm (BST) on Wednesday 09 December, will feature two guest speakers from Biffa: Brian Shepherdson, Head of Safety, Health and Quality – Operations & Collections and Paul Wright, Group Health & Safety Director.

Biffa joined the Open University and the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management in launching a report, last February, which showed the number of rough sleepers sheltering in bins had risen in the last five years. Based on a survey of 57 waste disposal companies and councils, the report showed that rough sleepers are typically discovered inside closed containers during cold weather in secluded urban areas, though people have increasingly been found sheltering in bins in towns and villages as the homelessness crisis has worsened.

More than a third of waste management companies responding to the survey reported having issues with people sheltering in bins during the previous year (that’s up from 21% in 2014). About one in ten cases of a person found sheltering in a bin involves a person that had been on a night out, according to the report.

With around 70% of incidents of sleepers found in waste bins occurring between January and June [and 30% during the rest of the year], now is the ideal time to not only raise awareness of this very real risk affecting some of the most vulnerable people in our society and on occasion revellers who may sleep in a bin after a night out. It will cover what waste producers, waste management companies like ourselves and the general public can all do to prevent it,” said Biffa’s Brian Shepherdson.

I will be sharing material at the webinar that IOSH members and other OSH professionals can use to make more people aware of this appalling problem and help them to manage the risks,” he added.

This material will include tips on how to keep bins safe and what signs to look out for:

Keeping bins safe

  • Lock containers where possible
  • Store in a well-lit, secure area
  • Report any instances of people sleeping in or near waste containers.

What to look out for

  • Stacked boxes and pallets (they could be used as a step up to a container)
  • Open lids that are normally closed
  • Dispersed waste.

Biffa urges anyone with concerns that people are sleeping in or around their bins should contact the national rough sleeping service StreetLink, either online or by calling its 24/7 hotline number 0300 500 0914.

David Thomas, Chair of the IOSH Environmental and Waste Management Group, which is staging the webinar in partnership with the IOSH Public Services Group, said: “I’m proud that IOSH members from across different work sectors have come together this Christmas to raise the profile of homeless people and the threats they face to their health and wellbeing, as well offering some practical help to employees working in waste management.

Homelessness is a particularly pressing issue for IOSH President Jimmy Quinn, a former Army Warrant Officer who left the army for a career in health and safety after 24 years’ service: “Campaigners suggest there are more than 3,500 homeless veterans sleeping rough in this country and so if there’s any way IOSH and the health and safety profession can help us all to do the right thing by them then I think we should – I’d say it’s the least we can do,” said Jimmy.

Register here to the free IOSH webinar People sleeping in bins.

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Jeremy Waterfield
Content Officer +44 (0)748 764 5395
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