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17 November 2019
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Wheelie bins © iStock
Wheelie bins © iStock

13 August 2019 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Use of wheelie bins is linked to lower sickness absence rates among council waste collection workers, according to research by the University of Greenwich. 


The study, published in the Resources, Conservation and Recycling journal, investigates the relationship between waste collection methods and rates of sick leave among local authority waste collection workers because of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

It suggests that absence rates among 60,000 waste collection worker rates in the UK could be reduced and that changing waste collection systems used by councils could lessen absences.


It also provides a method that can be used by organisations to identify links between work and ill-health absence to improve working conditions.

MSDs include any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper or lower limbs or the back and can be worsened by workplace conditions.

The research demonstrates that the use of wheeled bins is associated with lower staff absences owing to MSDs compared with carrying boxes, baskets and sacks. Even lower absences were linked to the use of larger four-wheeled bins handled by two workers.

The researchers used staff absence data from 15 UK local authorities that provided records with information about workers’ roles. This allowed for absence rates to be calculated in relation to job type. Using a software platform, the team identified statistically significant relationships between types of waste collection services by comparing absence rates for MSDs with non-MSDs for each primary job role.

The findings support research by the University of Greenwich and Glasgow Caledonian University published in the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health's (IOSH) Policy and Practice in Health and Safety journal earlier this year.

This report shows that waste collection systems used across the UK could be the cause of long-term musculoskeletal issues for workers and suggests that organisations should discontinue ‘box-type’ collections on MSD grounds as a matter of urgency.

The paper, The identification of the domestic waste collection system associated with the least operative musculoskeletal disorders using human resource absence data, published by the Resources, Conservation and Recycling journal, is available here