Health and Safety Executive - Safety Alert

5 Jul 2010

People in commercial waste containers


The term 'waste' used in this bulletin also includes materials intended for reuse or recycling.

The term 'people in commercial waste containers' refers to any person, including a child, occupying a waste container or receptacle, (commonly called a bin), usually for the purpose of sleep or shelter - but not necessarily restricted to such purpose. This activity carries with it the risk of disease and personal injury (sometimes death). For example, people may become trapped in the bin mechanisms, the contents of the bin may shift or the person is unable to escape before the bin is emptied into a waste collection vehicle. People have been discovered along with the contents of bins in waste collection vehicles, or at waste collection facilities, with injuries associated with falls from height or crushing by vehicle compaction mechanisms.

The types of bins that have been involved with such incidents are those designed for commercial waste collection - including those provided on a communal basis - these will include communal 'domestic' waste bins. They are usually large waste containers such as four-wheeled bins (typically 660 litres and above), eurocarts, front end loader containers, paladins and skips.


Commercial waste bins are emptied around the clock seven days a week, so there are millions of such operations each year. There have been many anecdotal reports from the industry and in the press of incidents where people have been discovered alive in bins prior to, or during, the contents being tipped into the collection vehicle. Fortunately, in most of these cases, no significant harm has arisen. More significantly, however, there have also been cases where a dead body has been discovered when the collected waste has been subsequently unloaded, e.g. at a transfer station. Subsequent investigation has revealed that in some of these cases the person concerned was alive prior to being emptied into the waste collection vehicle. The HSE is aware of three such fatal incidents that have occurred in the last year alone (April 2009 to March 2010).

Action required:

Those organisation producing commercial waste, those responsible for managing any waste storage areas, as well as those collecting such waste should take immediate steps to review their own arrangements and procedures with regard to the selection, use and storage of commercial waste bins in line with newly published HSE/WISH good practice guidance1 to eliminate or minimise the risk of injury arising from people in such bins,

This guidance cannot be comprehensive for eventuality, but contains notes and examples of good practice within the waste industry which you may find helpful in considering what you need to do. It does not seek to interpret legal requirements, but if you adopt the practice and principles described, you should be taking sufficient action to discharge your legal duties, and secure compliance with the law.

Relevant legal documents:

  • Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995


  1. People in commercial waste containers WASTE 25 HSE 2010 Web only version

Further information:

Health and Safety Executive
Manufacturing Sector (Waste Management and Recycling Team)
Ty Glas
CF14 4SH