Litter Picking Safety

Your safety is important to us, and we need you to work within the guidelines below. These will help keep you safe, and those around you too. These guidelines have been drawn up by the Canal and River Trust (CRT) for the Friends of Grand Union Canal (FoGUC)


Please check current government guidelines on social distancing, and make sure you follow them. For more information, visit

Your Location

      • If heading out alone to do your volunteering let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to be back.

      • Download the WhatThreeWords app which will allow you to pinpoint your location to within 3 metres. The emergency services, and the Canal and River Trust use this to find people.

Working Near Water

  • Work as far away from water’s edge where possible, back verge etc.

  • Use sturdy footwear, be aware of towpath front verge and its condition.

  • If working near water, wear life jacket, and if working in a group, carry a throw line.

Litter Picking from Water

      • Use the correct tools to reduce the need to bend over the water’s edge, long handled litter pickers and nets.

      • Set up a collection device (bucket)

      • Wear a life jacket

      • Only collect from water if working as a pair or as part of a group.

Working on Towpaths

      • If possible work around commuting times, and local busy time when the towpath might be, e.g. the shift change time at Brent for the factories.

      • Work in small groups over large groups

      • If working in narrow areas keep a look out for cyclist and runners etc.


Training can be provided for the collection of sharps

      • Sharps must be collected with the appropriate PPE, gloves, tongs and a sharps bin

      • Hands to be washed afterwards

      • Sharps bins to be disposed of by the Trust or its contractors

      • If there is a large amount or the volunteers don’t want to collect, contact the Trust on 03030 404040 and ask for clearance

Hazardous Waste

  • Posters and info to be provided to the group by the Trust about the identifying Hazardous materials

  • All hazardous materials to be collected by the Trust and/or its contractors and disposed of.

  • No moving or touching of the waste should occur by persons not trained and/or not provided with the correct tools

Manual Handling

Reduction in manual handling through good planning is recommended

  • Only lift what you feel is safe to do so

  • Ask for help and use aid, e.g. sack trolleys and wheel barrows

  • If it’s too far or too heavy, contact the Trust to arrange removal

Antisocial Behaviour

Communication with the Trust around anti-social behaviour is key for the volunteers to understand the risk in certain areas

  • Being polite and courteous and non-confrontational reduces the risks

  • If you feel uncomfortable remove yourself from the area

  • If any incident occurs walk away and report it to the Police, FoGUC leads and the Trust

Harmful Plant Life

Information will be provided on how to identify hazardous plants

  • Walk around the area, not directly in it

  • Call CRT on 03030 404040 for removal and to isolate plants

  • Inform other volunteers on the event

Harmful Animal Life

  • Do not pick up raw dog poo, bagged poo can be collected using a litter picking stick

  • Do not touch any dead animals, call CRT on 03030 404040 to arrange removal

Use of Long Tools

Long reach tools can present different risk, hitting low hanging power cables, striking other towpath users and volunteers

  • Work in a good space

  • Look before bringing tools across the towpath

  • If it's busy, get someone to act as lookout

Trip Hazards

Trip hazards along the canal corridor are often hidden, and care should be taken to when off the towpath, especially in long undergrowth.

  • Wear study footwear

  • Actively watch where you are placing your feet

  • Identify any obvious issues and alert the groups and or partners and report to CRT

  • If possible, physically highlight risks (line marker etc or cover)

Slippery Banks (e.g. Embankments)

Working on steep ground brings hazards of slips and trips, twisted ankles are fairly common injury for working on steep ground.

  • Wear sturdy footwear

  • Don't venture onto steep ground when it's wet

  • Use long handled litter pickers if you can

  • Climb to the bottom if it's short and clear from there

  • Be aware that there might be hidden obstacles and objects at the bottom

Weather Exposure

Weather exposure can occur in most weather types, good planning prior to doing work will eliminate most risks

  • Take regular breaks

  • Drink lots of fluids in hot and cold environments

  • Wear appropriate clothing

Waterborne Diseases

Waterborne diseases are a particular hazard while working along the canal, simple steps can significantly reduce the likelihood of contacting them.

  • Wear gloves

  • Use tools such as litter pickers

  • Wash hands regularly and especially before eating

  • Avoid touching your face, even with your sleeve

  • Use bin bags to contain rubbish


(Weil's disease)

Weil ’s disease or Leptospirosis is a water-borne infection that can be transmited to humans by contact with urine from infected rodents or cattle. While the risk of contracting the illness is low, precautions should be taken for those engaged in activities on canals and rivers which may expose him/her to the danger of Leptospirosis.


Symptoms begin between 2 and 30 days after exposure. You should see your GP if you experience the following symptoms after being in potential contact with infected urine:

  • A very high temperature, or feel hot and shivery headache

  • Feeling and being sick

  • Aching muscles and joints

  • Red eyes

  • Loss of appetite

An urgent appointment should be sought if experiencing the following:

      • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)

      • Swollen ankles, feet or hands

      • Chest pain

      • Shortness of breath

      • Coughing up blood

The disease can be fatal –do not ignore symptoms!


If engaged with any activities on canals or rivers the following precautions can help minimise the risk of contracting the disease:

  • Cover all cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressings.

  • Avoid full immersion in the water.

  • Wash all exposed skin thoroughly with antibacterial soap and clean water.

  • Thoroughly wash exposed wound(s) in clean water and apply a sterile dressing, with antiseptic if available.

  • Avoid rubbing your nose, eyes or mouth with your hands as infection may also enter the body orally.

  • Do not put wet ropes, fishing lines or other objects in your mouth.

  • Wear protective clothing if you are at risk whilst at work.

  • Shower as soon as possible if you have been in contact with potentially infected water.

  • Ask your family and friends to read this card and keep it in a safe place.