DANGER: Many are found sleeping in wheelie bins, posing a risk to their own lives (photo credit: Science Photo Library)
THE UK homeless crisis means that refuse collectors are now living with the fear of accidentally killing a growing number of people discovered sleeping in wheelie bins.
The shocking discoveries were expressed by a national waste management company, which reports that hundreds of people a night practice the risky business of bedding down in large bins set aside for paper, cardboard or general waste, either through homelessness or substance abuse.
According to Business Waste, refuse collectors are having to check bins before they empty them, in case they accidentally inflict terrible injuries or even death on someone inside.
"It's not just the homeless, even though that's bad enough," says Business Waste's Mark Hall, "There are also drunks sleeping off a session on their way home, and even drug addicts.
"It's terrifying for our staff to find somebody lurking inside on their early morning rounds, and they constantly worry if they've ever accidentally killed somebody."
It's almost impossible to tell how many people are sleeping in unsecured commercial wheeled bins every night, but Business Waste is certain that the problem runs into hundreds, if not thousands of cases.
"A bin behind a bank, shop or office filled with paper waste provides a relatively comfortable 'bed' for the right with a roof over your head," says Hall.
"But there is a genuine danger that the person inside might be too soundly asleep when the refuse truck comes.
"People who are drunk lose their judgement, so they think a bin is a good place to hunker down and save the taxi fare on a rainy night," says Hall.
He also says that wheeled bins provide a modicum of privacy for people using drugs. In both these cases, these people are likely to be "too far gone" to hear the approach of the bin lorry and make their presence known.
"In most cases, the lorry reversing klaxon is enough to act as an alarm clock for anybody inside, but the thoroughly drunk or drug users may be in a deeper state of unconsciousness and not recognise the danger at all," he says.
Waste operator Matthew tells of the typical experience of his trade:
"We have a rough sleeper jump out of a bin on us at least a couple of times a week. It's got to the point that you know which bins to expect them to leap out from. It's really sad and a bit unsettling, but what can you do?"
Colleague Janie adds:
"It always gives me a heart attack when it happens. One of these days we're gonna miss one, and I don't like to think about that."
Both Matthew and Janie say that they've got in the habit of checking inside likely bins, just to be on the safe side. However, businesses could easily help prevent the problem by securing their bins at night.
"They should either corral their bins so that they're behind closed doors, or lock their bins to ensure only approved people can access them," says Hall.
"But, it's the poor refuse lorry operators who are the last line of defence here, and it's a responsibility which weighs heavy on them.
"This is one tragedy that is being played out in public. How many other incidents involving homeless people who have fallen off the radar are going unrecorded?"
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