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by Craig Pryce July 23, 2021

If you were asked to list jobs that come with little risk to your health and safety, refuse collection certainly wouldn't feature.

Waste and recycling are inherently dirty; however, it isn't just the rubbish itself that poses a risk to workers, as you'll discover in this blog post.

Let's examine what a refuse collector is, what they do, what the main risks are in this job, and how those risks can best be avoided.

What is a refuse collector?

A refuse collector dressed in hi-vis workwear loading a grey wheelie bin onto a waste truck

Firstly, let's explore what a refuse collector is and what they do.

A refuse collector is someone who collects waste and recycling from homes or businesses.

You may also know them as:

  • Waste operative
  • Waste disposal operative
  • Recycling collector
  • Bin man (an outdated, gendered term)

With a refuse collector's job being to collect waste, they are naturally exposed to a particular set of risks, which we'll look at in more detail below.

It is a well-known fact that the waste and recycling industry is high-risk, and it is commonly recognised that it results in far more accidents than many other industries.

Every council and private waste management company is required by law to carry out a risk assessment for its employees — reducing the risks as much as possible.

Common risks for refuse collectors and how they can best be avoided

Below are the most common risks for refuse collectors, with some safety tips for each; however, please note that this is in no way an exhaustive list.

Hazardous waste

Starting with the most prominent risk, the waste itself can be dangerous to workers. Even rubbish that shouldn't contain anything dangerous can do — people frequently place waste in the wrong bin.

High-risk waste includes clinical waste, chemical waste, solvents, and asbestos; however, any debris can become hazardous if it features sharp edges — broken lightbulbs, for example.

Refuse collectors can lower this risk by wearing appropriate clothing (long-sleeved tops and trousers) and protective gloves, which the employer should provide.

Moving vehicles

Whether working in the street or at the waste depot, moving vehicles pose a significant risk for waste operatives.

Employers can improve conditions at the depot to reduce the risk caused by moving vehicles (with lighting, speed limits, one-way systems, etc.). Still, it is more difficult to control conditions when employees are working in public.

In public, hi-vis clothing is a must for refuse workers, who often have to emerge cautiously from behind parked vehicles.


Lifting large and heavy objects can cause injury.

Luckily, most waste management companies now use wheelie bins combined with trucks with lifting devices — dramatically decreasing the number of injuries sustained by staff.

That being said, the trucks and lifting devices themselves are a separate risk and need to be handled correctly at all times.


A mouse eating food waste

Earlier this year, a refuse collector was sent to hospital after being scratched by a rat in Glasgow while carrying out his job and subsequently falling ill.

Rats and mice are, unfortunately, a common issue in city centres and heavily built-up areas, and they particularly love bins.

There is a risk of scratches, bites, infection, and disease. Again, protective gloves are helpful to prevent direct contact with pests, and the location of wheelie bins is something else to be considered.


Unfortunately, abuse is on the increase in this sector, with 156 refuse collectors being physically attacked in 2019 and a further 188 being verbally abused or intimidated.

Often, violence and abuse take place when householders and customers get angry about waste and recycling rules they have broken.

For example, if a wheelie bin isn't emptied due to it being overfilled or if the recycling inside has been contaminated by non-recyclables.

Violence and abuse are unacceptable behaviours for any worker but also a problematic risk to control, sadly. 

Please note: Wheelie Bin Solutions holds no responsibility for others' workplace safety, and all employers are responsible for carrying out their own comprehensive and unique risk assessment for employees.

If you’d like to learn more about waste-related risks, you might enjoy our article on wheelie bin fires.

Craig Pryce

Craig Pryce

With over 17 years of experience in the waste and recycling industry, Craig is passionate about making recycling easier and reducing the negative impact of litter. He has been the managing director of Wheelie Bin Solutions (WBS) since January 2016, and prides the company on his expert knowledge, top-quality products, and customer service. His proudest moment was when WBS supported the 2012 Olympic Games, working in partnership with Contenur UK to supply over 9000 bin containers to all Olympic venues. Craig is always keen to share his knowledge, so whether you need advice about the benefits of a wheelie bin lock, or ideas for alternative uses for your wheelie bin, Craig will ensure your recycling and waste disposal habits are gold medal worthy.