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Essex tree surgeon in court after chainsaw fall onto worker

Date:
14 November 2014

A tree surgeon from Clacton-on-Sea has been fined after he fell nearly four metres, still clutching a running chainsaw, and landed on a colleague as they were pruning a garden tree in Little Oakely, near Harwich.

The 71-year-old employer, Gilbert Bradfield, escaped the fall with minor injuries but his friend and 72-year-old co-worker, who does not wish to be named, sustained a severe laceration to the head, a dislocated shoulder, a punctured lung and other internal injuries.

The man was in hospital for four days, but upon discharge he collapsed at home, dislocating both shoulders, and spent nearly eight weeks in intensive care with a severe chest infection.  Due to nerve damage in his shoulders, he now has very little use of both arms and requires constant care. 

Gilbert Bradfield, who had worked as a tree surgeon and landscape gardener for some 30 years, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation identified he had failed to make sure the work was carried out safely.

Colchester Magistrates’ Court heard today (14 Nov) that Mr Bradfield was contracted to fell the tree after the homeowner became concerned for its stability following strong winds. Mr Bradfield engaged three casual employees to help him and, after removing lower branches with a chainsaw, they erected a three-stage extending ladder to provide higher access.

To increase its height, they placed the foot of the ladder in the rear of their pick-up truck parked at the foot of the tree. Mr Bradfield climbed four to five metres to cut through the trunk and remove the top third of the tree using a heavy rear-handled chainsaw.  But as the top of the tree was cut, it swung around and knocked Mr Bradfield off the ladder.  He fell, with his chainsaw, and landed on his employee who was ‘footing’ the ladder.

An investigation by HSE revealed that no Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was being worn by any of the men operating chainsaws, nor were they using equipment for working at height such as harnesses or ropes. It was also found that despite his long experience as a tree surgeon Mr Bradfield and his employees had no certificates of competence in even the basics of chainsaw skills or tree surgery.

Gilbert Bradfield of Sturrick Farm, Sturrick Lane, Great Bentley, Colchester,  was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £889 after pleading guilty to single breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 .

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Anthony Brookes said:

“Gilbert Bradfield had not properly planned this work, and the way it was tackled almost doomed it to failure from the start. It is somewhat surprising, given his lack of proper training and a lack of competency, that a similar incident had not occurred before.

 “Tree work is a hazardous occupation and it is essential that the risks are recognised.  In the last ten years, 24 tree surgeons have been killed and 1,400 have been injured.  The HSE website has a dedicated area that provides advice on training and safe working methods in the industry.”

Further information about working safely at height can be found on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/treework/index.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. Regulation  4(1) of The Work at Height Regulations 2005 states: “Every employer shall ensure that work at height is— properly planned; appropriately supervised; and carried out in a manner which is so far as is reasonably practicable safe.
  3. Regulation 9(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states: “Every employer shall ensure that all persons who use work equipment have received adequate training for purposes of health and safety, including training in the methods which may be adopted when using the work equipment, any risks which such use may entail and precautions to be taken.”
  4. HSE press releases are available at press.hse.gov.uk

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