Risk assessing the danger of trees on school premises
Newcastle City Council has recently been fined £280,000 following the tragic death of a six-year-old girl after she was struck by a falling tree which was on school grounds and collapsed in strong winds. A number of other children suffered minor injuries in the incident and of course, witnessed what undoubtedly would have been a horrific event.
This extremely sad case highlights the importance for councils and other organisations to prioritise the safe management of trees on their land as well as manage other risks in a timely manner.
The Health and Safety Executive investigations following the incident found that Newcastle City Council who was responsible for inspecting trees on the school premises had failed to identify the risk or extent of decay of the tree involved and to take action to deal with it before the incident occurred. The evidence produced showed that between February 2018 and June 2020, the council undertook 6 inspections but took no action to deal with the decaying tree.
As a result of their omissions Newcastle City Council were found by the court to be in breach of S3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. S3 (1) of that Act states that every employer has a duty “to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not exposed to risks to their health and safety”.
Occupiers of land in this situation would also have a statutory duty under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 to take steps to ensure people entering their site are kept reasonably safe. In respect of trees in areas such as schools, playgrounds and parks the statutory duty under this act would require the implementation of a system of inspection with risks identified being acted upon in a timely manner so as to avoid the risk of injury.
The Health & Safety Executive report surrounding the Newcastle City Council incident made it clear that organisations responsible for managing tree health must understand the importance of routine inspections and dealing with any faults identified.
It is hoped that local authorities and other organisations reassess present procedures and where necessary put in place improvements to ensure the safety of their sites to prevent any similar tragic event in the future.
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