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Wash your hands of liability

27 September 2016

The level of pro-active engagement in business waste is improving but more needs to be done to raise awareness amongst SMEs about offensive waste rules and the penalties of non-compliance, argues washroom hygiene service provider ABC hygiene

With record numbers of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the UK there is an opportunity to increase awareness in all aspects of commercial, industrial and medical waste. There has been some doubt as to the efficacy of existing rules, relating to Duty of Care legislation for waste, so we, at ABC Hygiene, were hopeful when we saw the ‘right Waste, right Place’ campaign launched in April this year by the Environmental Services Association (ESA). 

The new campaign is primarily aimed at informing smaller businesses about the law and their obligations, as research suggests that 94% of non-compliant organisations are SMEs. As soon as ABC hygiene became aware of this campaign we took the time to see how it addressed our key waste management area, offensive waste. However this area of waste only gets scant mention with the campaign focusing predominately on recyclable and dangerous waste management.

Why our concern for SMEs? 

It comes down to awareness and liability. There are a staggering 5,146,000 businesses in the UK with less than 9 employees. In our experience most of these businesses either have offices in managed environments, so have no exposure to this concern, or they outsource to a managed cleaning service who are taking the responsibility or, as we discover regularly, simply don't know and are disposing of all their waste through the generic waste channels. We have remained concerned about the lack of efficiency in the reactive enforcement strategies presented by the relevant government agencies. Presently the enforcement comes through identification of incorrectly disposed waste at waste management facilities or through public awareness and the use of channels such as Crimestoppers. This attitude only serves to criminalise rather than pro-actively educate small businesses who have far more important tasks to consider including the survival of their businesses.

Fines, prosecution & poor health

What, therefore, is in it for small businesses? Most importantly is the lowering of risk. Being found in breach of your Duty of Care puts your business at risk of fines and prosecution. This could lead to your business being unable to bid for key deals and being unable to secure loans/additional finance at crucial moments. Further to this we have the serious issue of the health of the waste management worker. Put simply, a disposed sanitary pad can be a contaminant risk for days after disposal. The potential health risks can include hepatitis A & B, E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus & HIV. These products need to be handled correctly. 

What is offensive waste? 

There are the obvious, and regularly produced, sanitary waste products like feminine hygiene products, nappies, incontinence pads and the less obvious waste including medical dressings and clothing that have not been contaminated with bodily fluids. Finally there is the potential environmental risk of incorrect disposal.  Every type of waste has a different method of disposal. Without ensuring offensive waste is disposed of in the correct manner your business is providing an additional strain on our environment and the increase risk of local environmental contamination.

Getting the right support

A washroom services business can support its customers with Duty of Care. It starts with the correct levels and types of waste units, disposable waste bags and efficient waste management scheduling. It is important to consider seasonal fluctuations in visitor numbers to your business and potentially build in over provision at those times. Secure a provider that has up-to-date technology to monitor your service intervals and adjust them automatically to ensure your business continues to comply with no interruptions. Your Duty of Care will immediately be handled by the washroom services supplier and your business can wash its hands of this liability. In fact, don’t forget to review your hand hygiene procedure with your supplier at the same time.