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Employers warned to assess risks of felling trees properly after man suffered serious head injuries

Employers are being warned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to ensure they assess the risks of removing trees properly and that workers are adequately trained for this task. The warning follows HSE’s prosecution of a Sutton Coldfield engineering company after a man suffered serious head injuries while he was helping to remove a branch from a tree.

Pro-Mil Engineering Ltd, of Bodymoor Heath Lane, Bodymoor Heath, was fined �5,000 and ordered to pay costs of �3,314 at Nuneaton Magistrates’ Court yesterday (on Monday 28 July 2008) after the company pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The case followed an HSE investigation into an incident on 24 July 2007 at the company premises. The incident occurred during the removal of a willow tree that was leaning over the boundary fence. In order to avoid damage to the fence, it was decided to pull the tree in the opposite direction using a rope and a forklift truck. The rope was secured to the tree by inserting a log through the loop in the end of rope and then wedging it between in the ‘V’ created by a branch coming off the main trunk at about 3 metres above the ground.

As the tree was felled, the trunk twisted, putting tension on the rope and releasing the log out of the ‘V’ causing it to catapult across the yard, striking a 42-year-old employee on the side of the head with some force. He suffered serious injuries and was in intensive care for about three weeks.

Speaking after the case, HSE investigating inspector Neil Craig said:

“Neither the injured man, nor any of his colleagues who assisted, had been formally trained for any aspect of the task or held a relevant certificate of competence in the use of chainsaws for felling trees. They were simply asked to assist during a break in their normal work. The company had also failed to do a risk assessment of the task of removing trees.

“As a result of the company’s failure to take basic precautions, a man suffered severe head injuries, which were initially considered to be life-threatening, and his colleagues were also put at risk. This was entirely preventable.”


Note to editors:

1. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “it shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety”.

2. Guidance on the standards of training needed to operate a chainsaw and other aspects of their safe use can be found in HSE leaflet ‘Chainsaws at Work’