Real-life H&S incidents

Company fined for felling eighty-foot tree onto cars

Written by Phoenix Health & Safety
12th January 2018

An arboriculture company has been fined after felling an eighty-two foot tree in the wrong direction. Southend Magistrates Court heard that The F.A. Bartlett Tree Expert Company Limited were working on a large poplar at Torrington Drive, Debden 1 August 2016. It fell across a grass verge, the public carriageway, footpath and front gardens opposite, hitting two cars and narrowly missing two members of the public.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the job was not properly planned or supervised, there were not enough workers to carry out the job safely, they had not been properly trained and lacked the correct equipment. The work area was not sufficiently segregated from members of the public, and the company did not follow standard industry guidelines.

After pleading guilty to breaching Sections 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the FA Bartlett Tree Expert Company Limited of High Street, Crawley was fined £24,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,352.60. HSE inspector Adam Hills said:

“This was a serious incident and it is fortunate that nobody was injured.... A lack of training combined with a failure to ensure that an adequate plan of work was prepared, implemented and followed left members of the public exposed to risks that could have easily been controlled.”

Phoenix comments:

Statistics show that the vast majority of fatal and major injuries in tree work are associated with chainsaw operations, being struck by a tree/branch or a fall. Between 1 April 2000 and 31 March 2013 60 people have been killed as a result of tree work and many more have been injured. The company failed to plan, resource and monitor its activities and this incident could have resulted in more serious consequences. The HSE provide the following chainsaw and tree felling guidance:

  • Initial site survey - Wherever possible assess each job in advance. This allows for correct selection of equipment, allocation of staff and prior knowledge of hazards. It also allows an experienced site surveyor to provide guidance and work methodology to the people carrying out the work.
  • Risk assessment/emergency planning - The assessment should take account of the hazards specific to the site, task and tree. It is not just an exercise on paper, if you cannot control risks to acceptable levels, work must not proceed until suitable arrangements are in place. Emergency contingency plans (first aid, emergency contact numbers, Accident and Emergency number, site location etc) must be in place in advance.
  • Work planning - All information, as well as the actual undertaking of the job, must be planned, agreed and understood by all the team.
  • Felling cuts - Effective control of the fell is maintained by an appropriate combination of the directional or sink cut, hinge and main felling or back cut. Felling cuts must be appropriate to the tree size and form, and consistently accurate.
  • Felling aids (breaker bars, wedges etc) - These must be appropriate to the tree size and form. The need for felling aids must be identified in advance; they must be appropriate and readily available to the person undertaking the fell.
  • Control lines, pull ropes, anchor ropes, winches etc - If such systems are to be used there should be clear understanding of their intended purpose and suitability for the task, e.g. is it: An assisted fell? An anchor or back up? A felling aid? A winching operation? A combination of tasks?
  • Avoid ‘free hand’ pulling or non-anchored applications. If the person pulling the rope sways or rocks the tree during felling, the main felling cut at the rear of the tree will open and close and the chainsaw operator could compromise the integrity of the hinge.
  • Do not over-tension lines. This may place considerable tension on the rear of the tree making the hinge sever prematurely, causing the tree to split and injuring the chainsaw operator.
  • Avoid making the main felling or back cut while your workmate is simultaneously applying tension to the line. As well as the above risks, the chainsaw operator cannot safely place the back cut and monitor the action of his colleague operating the line. In the majority of cases the tree feller should be able to form the back cut, leave a hinge of appropriate size, step into a safe area, and then issue an agreed signal for the person on the lines to start operation.
  • Plan escape routes in advance and keep them clear of obstructions. If control is lost over the fell, use the escape route and do not turn your back on the falling tree. Remember, accidents often happen because unforeseen or remote risks actually materialise. Consider the possibility that the tree may fall towards your intended escape routes. Have you got enough back up to ensure that the tree will fall in the intended direction? Is there enough space to take evasive action if the unforeseen occurs?
  • Ensure staff have the necessary training, experience and competency certificate for the task they are undertaking. Remember that people holding only CS 30/31 with little additional experience can quickly find themselves in situations outside their experience and skill base. This is particularly true when faced with larger and awkward fells and the unique hazards associated with arboricultural operations in gardens and the built environment.

Further guidance is available from the HSE: