19 January, 2022
The Court heard how, on 3 October 2019, a man walking his dog on the Isabel Trail in Stafford was struck and killed by part of a falling oak tree.
The HSE's investigation found that the tree, a multi-stemmed mature hybrid oak, approximately 12-14 metres high and with a crown radius of between seven and ten metres, had defects from which it was foreseeable that it was likely to fall and cause injury. The tree was located within the boundaries of the Isabel Trail.
Local authorities, including Staffordshire County Council, are legally required to suitably and sufficiently manage the risks and hazards posed by the trees within their responsibility remit. Staffordshire County Council had a programme of proactive inspection and maintenance across the county, but the Isabel Trail had been omitted for many years.
Staffordshire County Council pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. They were fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,164.90 and a victim surcharge £181.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Lyn Mizen said: "This tragic incident could have been averted if the required periodic tree safety inspections, as per the Staffordshire County Council's own Code of Practice, had been carried out. Local Authorities need to ensure they have suitable inspection systems in place, including monitoring and audit provisions, to guard against situations such as this, and to ensure they have enough suitably trained and competent tree inspectors to enable compliance with their tree management policies and codes of practice."
The risk and hazard of falling trees is a matter we have previously addressed in an article in July 2020, please see the following link:
Tree Inspections and management of the risk from falling trees or branches is a matter which the HSE have published guidance on in 2013, see Management of the risk from falling trees or branches (hse.gov.uk) www.hse.gov.uk/foi/internalops/sims/ag_food/010705.htm
It is reported that there is approximately 5 or 6 people in the UK who are killed when trees or branches fall on them, with approximately 3 people killed each year by trees in public spaces. Whilst the risk is low, the tragic consequences of such an incident requires Council's to have a pro-active system of tree inspection in place to ensure that the risk is minimised.
The HSE guidance sets out the procedures for ensuring that an organisation has an effective system for managing trees in place dependent on the risk of trees falling and causing serious injury or harm to members of public.
In this case, the location of the tree within a trail which was likely to be frequented by members of the public and will have been required to be subject to tree inspections given the likelihood of members of the public encountering trees on the trail. In this instance, the Council appear to have had a Code of Practice in place but failed to adhere to it.
Most Council's do have a system of inspection and policy in relation to tree management. Equally, it is important that the system is documented and any that they have competent and trained tree inspectors to carry out these inspections.
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