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Fatal accident caused by falling tree

View profile for Pauline Smith
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Fatal accident caused by falling tree

The HSE recently successfully prosecuted Stafford County Council for failing to carry out regular inspections and to maintain trees on one of their public footpaths. This failure, on the part of the council, lead to the tragic death of a man, who was walking his dog in October 2019 along the Isabel Trail in Stafford.

As the man was walking, part of a falling oak tree struck and killed him. The tree was found to be almost 14 metres high, and almost ten metres wide at its crown, and with defects which, had it been inspected, would have been identified as likely to cause it to fall.

The council were fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of over £13,000 at North Staffordshire Justice Centre.

All local authorities have to have a system of inspection and monitoring of trees which fall within their responsibility remit. Each council must also have a code of practice, which sets down in writing their responsibilities for maintaining highways, carriageways, footpaths, and even trees. Each council must set down, for example, how often an area needs to be inspected, how they carry out that inspection, and what their action plan is, if something, such as a pavement or a tree is found to be defective or dangerous. They must also ensure that they have enough trained tree inspectors to comply with their own policies and code of practice for inspection.

In this particular instance, Stafford County Council, whilst having a programme of inspection and maintenance set down, failed to include the area where the gentleman was walking in their inspections and pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

After further incidents of a similar nature were reported in the UK following extreme stormy weather in late 2021, it is important that councils now review their procedures in place relating to tree safety and ensure that they are holistic and thorough, as well as ensuring they are actually put into practice.