Research Shows Waste Collection Systems Contribute to Musculoskeletal Issues for UK Workers

The research, published in the latest edition of IOSH's Policy and Practice in Health and Safety Journal, investigated musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in workers as a result of different systems used for recycling and waste collection.

Research by the University of Greenwich and Glasgow Caledonian University has shown that waste collection systems used throughout the United Kingdom could be causing significant, long-term musculoskeletal problems for workers, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health reported Jan. 18. 

The research, published in the latest edition of IOSH's Policy and Practice in Health and Safety Journal, investigated musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in workers as a result of different systems used for recycling and waste collection. MSDs in this case refer to any injury, damage, or disorder of joints or other tissues in the lower or upper limbs or the back and can be exacerbated by workplace conditions.

In their research, the team observed workers' experiences of MSDs via body mapping, having workers identify where they felt pain or discomfort during their work activities and recording the results using a chart or questionnaire. A unit of measurement called "Average Pain Count," or APC, was created to examine the severity of the pain. According to the research, wheeled bin-based services are associated with fewer MSD results than services that involve boxes, baskets, and sacks. 

Workers reported the highest APC in the lower back, shoulder, neck, and upper spine. The APC decreased when manual handling was decreased following an increase in the use of wheeled bins and the removal of baskets and boxes. Workers also experienced less pain and reduced risk of MSD when aspects of job rotation were present as a result of task variation and less static loading for drivers. 

"Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show around 70 percent of all workers in the waste management industry are involved in municipal household and commercial collections," said Andy Robertson, IOSH Environmental & Waste Management Group chair. "These collections account for about 80 percent of all the reported injuries, with the most common being musculoskeletal disorders."

The research suggests that local authorities should discontinue box-type collections in an effort to reduce MSD risks for workers, according to IOSH. The full paper, "Using body mapping as part of the risk assessment process – a case study," can be read here.

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