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When health and safety and public relations collide
Posted by David Cant on September 7, 2015

When health and safety and public relations collide

Two Health and Safety InspectorsPicking up on yet another viral social media post, the Daily Telegraph carries another apparent example of elf n’ safety, detailing a minor confrontation between Leodensian Debbie Campbell and a local refuse operative. After missing the previous collection, Miss Campbell loaded two weeks worth of rubbish into her bin, so that the lid did not close properly.

Come collection time, one of the operative began unloading the contents of Miss Campbell’s bin onto the street, claiming that it represented a health and safety hazard because it had been overloaded. Miss Campbell videoed the encounter, claiming that she even offered to load the extra rubbish onto the truck herself.

In the end, she was left with a pile of leftover rubbish on the street.

Mob mentality overrides common sense

The video recording of the incident has been viewed over 90,000 times since being posted on Debbie Campbell’s Facebook page, with severe criticism being directed at the refuse operative and their ‘jobsworth’ mentality. But is that really fair?

Leeds City Council apparently has a rule in place that by forbidding the overloading of wheelie bins should prevent accidents and injuries to operatives and the general public. Although Miss Campbell claims to have been unaware of this rule, by enforcing it the operative may actually have been doing her a favour.

As frustrating as the situation may have been, the operative in question was not only following their training, but could actually have been acting in Miss Campbell’s best interests. The fact that he also prevented Miss Campbell from loading rubbish into a machine capable of causing fatal crush injuries would also suggest that he was acting in her best interests.

But as Leeds City Council launches an investigation into the incident, what could have been handled better?

PR-friendly improvements

Although the refuse operative actually behaved completely in line with his training and instructions, the way the situation was handled could have been better.

Keep everyone in the loop

The fact that Miss Campbell didn’t know about the bin loading rules suggests that Leeds City Council could have done more to publicise them in the first place. A biannual leaflet drop or similar would help provide routine reminders that residents have their own part to play in upholding health and safety standards.

Think creatively

Rather than simply leaving the extra rubbish on the roadside, the operative could have found an alternative way to ensure it was loaded. Adding the excess to a neighbour’s under-filled bin would have been a quick and simple way to ensure standards were upheld and the rubbish was disposed of. If the Council’s health and safety frameworks do not allow for this kind of flexibility, then they probably need reviewing.

Unfortunately, the bin man involved in this particular incident has shouldered an unfair amount of criticism, fuelled by the general negativity surrounding health and safety provisions. So is this a case of elf n’ safety gone mad? Not this time!


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

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