Picking up black bin bags is bad for your health, union set to tell binmen

Lochend Square resident Thomas Borthwick stands alongside bins in his street that have not been emptied for over two weeks.

Lochend Square resident Thomas Borthwick stands alongside bins in his street that have not been emptied for over two weeks.

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UNION bosses are set to tell binmen to stop picking up black bags from the kerb for “health and safety” reasons.

As rubbish piles up across the city because of the move to fortnightly collections, the Unite union says it is worried about injuries to its members.

It said binmen were currently dealing with extra bags left next to over-flowing bins but warned this would not continue.

Today, the suggestion that bags of rubbish might not be lifted because of health and safety concerns was branded “daft” and “ridiculous” by politicians.

But the union defended its stance and said its members were at the sharp end of the current problems.

Unite senior shop steward Peter Lawson said: “We are looking at the health and safety side just now.

“There is of course the usual musculoskeletal issues associated with the handling of heavy and bulky bags.

“Some of the guys are dealing with the roadside rubbish in the short term.

“This is time limited however and will be revisited in the next two or three weeks. This can’t be a long-term solution.”

He said the union wanted to appeal to the public not to hold frontline staff accountable for the problems as the change to collection days and shift patterns had a “significant impact” on them as well.

And he said staff did not have all the information on the changes to help the public.

“To expect them to be directly answerable to the public for any problems regarding these organisational changes is neither fair nor reasonable,” he added.

He added: “Our members have not received adequate training from their employer in dealing with these matters.

Neither do they have information held by management regarding the impact of these changes in different parts of the city.”

The city council, which says it could take until the weekend to clear the backlog of rubbish which has seen one in ten bins go unemptied, said it was not aware of the health and safety concerns.

A spokeswoman said crews had been briefed extensively and had been provided with information to hand to members of the public. She also said many crews already handled bin bags as a matter of course.

Murrayfield Tory councillor, Jeremy Balfour, said he had been inundated with calls from angry residents and found the idea that bin men would 
not lift black bags “ridiculous”.

“This seems ridiculous and it looks like these union members are just trying to get out of their obligations and shift the blame.

“I have not been made aware of any issues relating to health and safety.

“The whole handling of this has to be investigated and I will be raising the issue at council.”

Frances Durie, chair of West Pilton/Granton Community Council, said the health and safety argument was “daft”.

She said: “What about our health and safety with vermin running around? The communal bin store is right next door to my property and it is filled to the brim.

“Binmen should be just that and empty bins. We all pay plenty of council tax.”

The new fortnightly collections began last week in a bid to force residents to reduce the amount of rubbish being sent to landfill. The council said the problems had been caused by shift patterns for the bin crews changing and residents getting used to putting out their rubbish on the correct day.

Earlier this week, the council said while the new system was bedding in, it would allow bin crews to remove extra bags of rubbish, leading to the union’s concerns.

A council spokeswoman said: “Some properties in the city have always had a black bag waste collection and staff are trained in manual handling – this is not a new issue.

“We have recycling advisers and route attendants operating in the areas where we are carrying out collections who are trained to provide information and advice to the public, minimising the need for crews to engage with public queries.

“Crews have been briefed extensively on how to deal with any situations that may arise.”

The city’s environment leader Councillor Lesley Hinds, added: “This is a massive change for the public and staff and I thank them for their continued support while we implement these changes.

“We always expected there would be challenges in the first few weeks.

“I recognise there have been problems with collections but I’ve been given assurances that we will have caught up by close of play on Sunday.

“Meanwhile anyone experiencing issues with their bin collections should contact us on 0131 529 3030.

david.oleary@edinburghnews.com