A health and safety watchdog has blasted Perth and Kinross Council over a series of breaches at a waste recycling depot following a deadly Covid-19 outbreak.
Binman Scott Hunter died in hospital last month after an 18-day battle with coronavirus.
He was one of three employees at the North Forr Centre in Crieff who were struck with the virus at the beginning of the year.
The Courier can today reveal that, just days after his death, Mr Hunter’s workplace was visited by a senior Health and Safety Executive officer as part of an investigation into concerns about Covid-19 controls, understood to have been raised by a staff member.
HM Inspector of Health and Safety Michelle Gillies has noted a long list of “contraventions of health and safety law” and has ordered Perth and Kinross Council to take immediate action.
In her letter, Ms Gillies notes that the three confirmed Covid-19 cases were not reported to the council’s corporate health, safety and wellbeing team so that close contacts could be traced.
Despite the cases being reported to management at the site, there was no deep cleaning of shared work vehicles, site buildings or areas of the yard.
The shared lorries continued to be used by staff, said Ms Gillies.
No extra cleaning after worker tests positive
“It was also identified that there was no additional cleaning and disinfection of the site offices and welfare facilities conducted after the first positive case was reported to site management,” she said.
“Despite it being known that the infected employees had entered and used these facilities shortly before testing positive.”
She said that procedures put in place to minimise and control virus spread had not been “effectively communicated” down the management chain to employees at the site.
“There were several memos attached to the employee noticeboard in the canteen area, but there had been no training or instruction provided to employees on precautions to be taken, employees were just expected to read the memos,” she said.
“No checks on whether they had been read or understood had been carried out.”
Ms Gillies found there were no procedures in place for waste and recycling depots to follow in the event of a positive case.
The investigation also found that facilities and offices were only cleaned three days a week, while government guidance states that, at minimum, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned twice per day.
Each vehicle had a packet of wipes to clean surfaces before it was passed to a new driver, but staff said they had received no formal training.
“They were only provided with a memo on these requirements the week prior to my visit,” said Ms Gillies.
Lack of training
She said a memo did however exist, and had been written by the council’s fleet department in June 2020.
Likewise, cans of fogger were provided to disinfect vehicles, but employees were not told when to use them.
There was no hand gel provided for employees to use before entering the office building, despite staff having requested a dispenser.
Employees had also asked for a one-way system to keep themselves safe, but this was never provided.
Complaints about the size of the lorries – with no space for driver and passenger to stay safely distant – will be investigated by the council’s corporate health team, the report stated.
The council has been told to review procedures and training, and confirm an action plan to the HSE by February 26.
A local authority spokesman insisted that safety of staff was a priority.
“We take all practical measures to protect them from Covid-19,” he said.
“We welcome the HSE’s involvement and will use their findings to help us improve our processes at the Crieff site.
“We are conducting a further review of the procedures and training in line with their advice to ensure full compliance with government guidelines and health and safety legislation.
“Covid-19 cases remain very low within Perth and Kinross Council’s operational depots and continue to demonstrate the effectiveness of the arrangements we have had in place since March last year.
“All of our staff, across all of our services, have been reminded of the importance of following all public health advice in order to minimise transmission of coronavirus as much as possible, both at work and within their communities.”
Other Perth and Kinross sites will be visited
Local councillor Stewart Donaldson, who had earlier this year raised concerns about the depot after he was approached by a whistleblower, said: “Overall, the HSE report fills me with deep concern.
“This is not just an operational matter. It goes above and beyond that.
“The HSE letter and report is quite clear. The HSE has identified contraventions of health and safety law. It sets out not just material breaches, but multiple breaches.”
Mr Donaldson said he was told an action plan was now being put in place, and that other sites at Friarton, Blairgowrie, Pitlochry and Kinross will be visited to ensure protocols and procedures are being followed.
“Quite simply, we must ensure that there is no recurrence of what happened in Crieff,” he said.
“Employees must feel safe and secure in their work environment.”
Town paid tribute to beloved binman Scott
Concerns about the lack of PPE and deep cleaning were raised to Perth and Kinross Council weeks before Scott’s death.
But, a complaint by a whistle-blower at the Crieff centre was made as far back as August last year.
Scott’s family told The Courier he used to protect himself on his rounds using hundreds of pounds worth of cleaning equipment bought by his wife.
The 52-year-old, who had worked at the North Forr centre for nearly 30 years, was described by relatives as “the best dad and papa”.
He also worked behind the bar at the well-known Pretoria Bar in Crieff, which is run by his family.
Locals honoured the grandfather-of-two’s memory by tying black ribbons, messages and decorations to their wheelie bins.
A cortege of bin lorries travelled through parts of Perthshire on the day of his funeral, while mourners lined the streets.