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Tree Surgeon And Gardener Accidents

Solicitors in London
The job of a tree surgeon, or arborist, can be rewarding and interesting, but it demands training and experience. The risk of serious injury is high because of three particular elements of the job:
  1. Work at heights, often in an unstable environment
  2. Use of cutting equipment such as chainsaws, at height
  3. Falling trees and branches

1400 tree surgeons have been injured in the last 9 years (HSE figures). Not a large number compared with other industry sectors, but significant given the small numbers working in this field.

In one accident reported in the press in 2011 a tree surgeon slipped whilst cutting a branch 50 ft up a horse chestnut tree and cut his neck and arm with his chainsaw. He lost six pints of blood before receiving emergency hospital treatment to save his life. Others are not so lucky. On average three tree surgeons are killed every year in work accidents.

Working at height

Work at heights is the major cause of industrial fatalities. What makes arboreal work at heights particularly dangerous is that trees are not entirely predictable structures and of course no two trees are the same; the jobs of felling, crown lifting or thinning, reducing or pollarding require particular approaches and proper planning. A dead or diseased tree will respond to cutting in a different way to a living tree and a large tree will react differently to a small one. A wind felled tree will act differently to one that has been chopped down. Only through training and experience will the operative properly understand and cope with the risks created by different situations.

Required training to harness & use of machinery

The job of roping and harnessing tree surgeons as they go about cutting and dismantling a tree is a skilled one, and again needs training and preparation.

Chainsaws and stump grinders are essential to the job of a tree surgeon and must only be used after full training and in conjunction with proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

Duty of care on employers

The law imposes duties on employers to take reasonable steps to ensure that their workers are provided with the necessary PPA and other equipment (eg hard hats, harnesses and ropes, rigging and bracing equipment, boots and ladders). There are also regulations governing work at heights (The 2007 Work at Height Regulations) which require that the work is properly planned and assessed and that workers are properly trained and supervised.

A recent case

Osbornes acted for a tree surgeon who suffered a brain injury whilst carrying out his job. He was experienced in most aspects of the work but was not familiar with the particular requirements with wind felled trees, and as he went to cut off the branches of one such tree with a chainsaw he misjudged the elasticity of a branch and as he cut through the wood the branch sprang forward hitting him on the head and rendering him unconscious. The damage caused permanent symptoms and after court proceedings Osbornes secured an £850,000 gross settlement.

Risks faced by a gardener, landscaper and groundsman

The job of a gardener, landscaper or groundsman is not normally as hazardous as that of a tree surgeon, although they do sometimes need to work at heights and they do need to work with cutting, vibrating tools and other machinery. They certainly carry out a lot of manual handling work with heavy loads and often deal with chemicals and other toxic substances. So they too have the benefit of the regulations designed to protect those who face the risk of particular injury in their line of work: the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, the Workplace Regulations 1992, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002.

Written by Stuart Kightley

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