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Tree firm fined after teenage worker loses toes on wood chipper

Date:
5 February 2013

A teenage worker just three weeks into his first job sustained a serious foot injury while using a poorly maintained wood chipper without adequate supervision or training, a court has heard.

Connor Harfield, from Bracknell, Berkshire, then aged just 16, lost all of the toes and most of the ball on his right foot in the incident at Auckland Close in Maidenhead on 23 September 2011.

Now 18, he has been left with permanent impairment, ongoing pain and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression.

Reading Magistrates’ Court heard today (5 February) that he was working to reduce shrubbery and stumps for Calibra Tree Surgeons Ltd using a mobile wood chipper that can be moved from site to site as a trailer.

The teenager was feeding brushwood into the machine and had inserted his right foot into the chute to speed up the flow. His shoe snagged on the feed rollers and was drawn into the cutting blades.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified that the chipper was poorly maintained and was missing a vital safety bar around the bottom of the feed chute.

Calibra was fully aware of this defect and although a replacement part was on order the company knowingly kept it in interim use in an unsafe condition.

HSE also established that the injured worker wasn’t adequately trained or supervised. Although a more experienced colleague was present at the time of the incident he had essentially been left to his own devices and chose a method of work that posed clear risk.

Calibra Tree Surgeons Ltd, of Moordale Avenue, Bracknell, was fined a total of £7,000 and ordered to pay £5,973 in costs after pleading guilty to single beaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Daniel Hilbourne said:

"No responsible company would keep equipment with defective safety measures in use, especially a piece of equipment like a wood chipper that is known to be dangerous because of the very nature of what it does.

"Neither would a responsible company leave a young, inexperienced worker to his own devices around such machinery without adequate training and supervision.

"Yet that is precisely what Calibra Tree Surgeons allowed, and a teenager has been left with permanent impairment and psychological scarring as a result.

"It is well known that young people in the workplace are often less risk averse, and they need to be closely and carefully monitored when using machinery. It is also imperative that machinery is well maintained and is pre-checked before use. Had that happened here, this serious incident could have been prevented."

Videos and further information about how to safely use mobile hand-fed wood chippers can be online at http://www.hse.gov.uk/treework/resources/videos.htm

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."
  3. Regulation 3(4) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states: "An employer shall not employ a young person unless he has, in relation to risks to the health and safety of young persons, made or reviewed an assessment in accordance with paragraphs (1) and (5)".
  4. Regulation11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations states: Every employer shall ensure that measures are taken in accordance with paragraph (2) which are effective to prevent access to any dangerous part of machinery or to any rotating stock-bar; or to stop the movement of any dangerous part of machinery or rotating stock-bar before any part of a person enters a danger zone.

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