MARK DANIELS - Adviser on visitor and occupational health and safety at historic buildings, parks, gardens, coast and countryside

News archive December 2013

18 December 2013

Scottish estate prosecuted after worker killed during tree felling

The Buccleuch Estates Limited has been fined for health and safety failings after a worker died during tree felling operations near Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries.

An employee died after being struck in the head and body by a 36 metre tall tree which had been uprooted and knocked over by another tree being felled while he was acting as a signalman between two other workers also involved in the tree felling operation.

The Buccleuch Estates Limited was prosecuted after an HSE investigation found that the estate failed to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, implement a safe system of work or provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision for employees who were engaged in the tree felling task.

In January 2011, 3 workers were felling spruce and larch trees ranging between 26 and 36 metres in height in a wood. The deceased was acting as a signalman between his two colleagues, one of whom was cutting the trees with a chainsaw while the other was pulling the felled trees into the crop using a tractor winch. This involved the deceased standing in a position where he could see both the other men and could in turn be seen by them both. His role was to act as signalman between his two co-workers. He should have been positioned at least two tree lengths away from the tree being felled; however, he had learning difficulties and it is believed that at times he did not appreciate distances and was well within the ‘two tree’ exclusion zone when he was struck and killed. Although in principle the work was supposed to adhere to the ‘two tree’ rule – whereby all people and machinery involved in the felling operation would be outside an exclusion zone equalling the length and span of two trees – the winch cable was only 40 metres long, far too short for felling trees of between 26 and 36 metres.

The Buccleuch Estates Limited was fined £140,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Following the case, the HSE Inspector said: “This was an entirely avoidable incident and the failures by the estate directly resulted in this tragic death. A system of waves and nods is not a safe way to manage the felling of large, heavy trees and put all three workers at unnecessary risk. This informal and unsafe way of working had been in place unchallenged and not updated for over 15 years with the Estate making no efforts to follow industry safety guidelines or to even accurately assess the risks its workers faced."