Hazards news release, 18 April 2009
HSE accused of waste injury ‘spin’
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been accused of using “cheap PR tactics and spin” to downplay the findings of its own report on the waste industry’s appalling accident record. An HSE press release announcing the publication of research into the sector’s injury rate was headed: “Waste and recycling industry injury rates improve - but best yet to come.”
The release said “injury rates from the waste and recycling industry have decreased since peaking in 2003-4.” It added that the report for HSE, in conjunction with the analysis of recent accident statistics, shows that from 2003/04, the injury rate decreased by approximately 15 per cent to 2007/08. In fact, the fatal and major injury rate had followed a general upward trend over the period covered by the report, something not mentioned in the release.
The figures published in the news release show the total number of injuries has remained pretty static from 2001/2, varying between a low of 3,993 in 2001/02 and peaking in 2006/07 at 4,515. The latest figure, for 2007/08 is 4,347. HSE’s claim of improvements in the accident rate is based on guesstimates that employment has increased dramatically in the most recent two years.
However, HSE does not provide an employment figure for the worst year, 2006/07, and only an estimate for 2007/08. If employment had remained at the 2005/06 level – and real employment figures show there has not been a pattern of increasing employment over the period – then the overall trend would have seen injury rates peak in 2006/07 and remain high in 2007/8.
Jawad Qasrawi of Hazards magazine, which quizzed HSE about the discrepancy, commented: “This is the latest in a series of HSE attempts to put a healthy gloss on industry’s dangerous practices. It amounts to cheap PR tactics and spin.” He added: “HSE would be better admitting it hasn’t the resources to do the necessary inspection and enforcement, and rogue waste industry employers are harming workers as a result. We need to see real improvements, not fanciful interpretations of the statistics.”