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Businesses urged to be vigilant of rough sleepers seeking refuge in commercial waste bins


Data recently released by Combined Homeless and Information Network (CHAIN) shows that, between July and September 2018, 3103 people were found sleeping rough in London. This is a record number for the capital and is increasing.

The locations most attractive to rough sleepers and with the highest risks are:

  • Businesses using bins with a capacity of 660 litres or greater
  • Businesses located in areas where rough sleeping is known
  • Businesses in areas where there have been previous instances of people being found in waste storage areas and bins
  • Businesses that store dry, ‘comfortable’ wastes attractive to those seeking shelter e.g. paper, card, carpet and textiles
  • Businesses that have bin storage areas in quiet locations with low footfall
  • Businesses that have unsecured bin stores or bins without locks


Where the above risks are reasonably foreseeable Local Authorities should take appropriate action so his autumn Southwark Officers will be visiting at risk businesses to raise awareness and promote these resources, hopefully saving lives.
  • Leaflets with practical advice on how businesses can reduce their risk and better manage bin stores
  • Posters to help staff recognise the signs of rough sleeping, remind them to check their bins regularly and to be extra vigilant during periods of cold weather.  It also details of local outreach and support services to enable reporting of the signs of rough sleeping
  • Bin stickers to remind waste contractors to check bins before emptying them into waste compaction vehicles 


As winter approaches Southwark Council is working with local businesses to raise awareness of the risks to rough sleepers seeking refuge in large commercial bins during cold and wet weather.

In the UK, between 2009 and 2015, 11 people are known to have died when they were inadvertently tipped into waste collection compacters.

Waste contractors report that incidents are rising. In 2013/14  Biffa recorded 31 rough sleepers in bins, a year later that had risen to 93, and in 2015/16 it had increased again to 175. Last winter Southwark’s domestic waste contractor, Veolia, recorded 32 people found in their bins in the UK. This was up from 26 the previous year. There have been a number of industry led campaigns to raise awareness, such as B&M Waste Services ‘Refuse not Refuge’ campaign.

The HSE is concerned about the increase in unnecessary deaths and injuries to vulnerable people. Their Waste & Recycling Sector Plan (http://www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/strategiesandplans/sector-plans/waste.pdf) supports the waste industries strategic initiative to prevent people being injured or killed after entering large commercial bins (typically 660 litres and above).

This year the HSE asked health & safety regulators to engage with businesses that use large commercial waste bins, such as retail and licensed premises. They want local authorities to raise the awareness of duty holders of the need to manage the risks of permitting unsecured access to commercial bins.

Southwark Council, working with Homeless Outreach staff, have created resources for businesses, including: https://www.southwark.gov.uk/business/health-and-safety/rough-sleepers-seeking-shelter-in-commercial-bins

Additional guidance and benchmark standards for duty holders can be found in the Waste Industry Safety & Health (WISH) guidance at: https://wishforum.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/WASTE-25-.pdf

For more details on the Southwark project contact roy.pickard@southwark.gov.uk at Southwark Council Regulatory Services. 


22 November 2018

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