Council fined over tree death horror

A COUNCIL was yesterday fined £200,000 after it failed to ensure the health and safety of a worker who was crushed to death by a tree.Hadrian Robinson died of head injuries when a maple tree he was cutting down at Chalkney Woods, Earls Colne, fell on him.

A COUNCIL was yesterday fined £200,000 after it failed to ensure the health and safety of a worker who was crushed to death by a tree.

Hadrian Robinson died of head injuries when a maple tree he was cutting down at Chalkney Woods, Earls Colne, fell on him.

The accident, on March 27, 2003, was witnessed by teenager Naomi Welham, who was on a work experience placement.

The council, which had admitted failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees at an earlier hearing, said it had carried out major changes to its procedures since the accident.


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Mr Robinson, 28, from Rayne, near Braintree, was part of a three-man team county council team sent to fell the 35-year-old tree, which was growing over a cottage.

Adam Budworth, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, said Mr Robinson, who had worked for the council for about a year, was regarded as only an "occasional user" of chainsaws and had missed his previous two refresher courses through illness.

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He added: "He was still qualified but was never assessed initially, nor was he qualified to carry out the task given to him on March 27.

"In addition he was not qualified to assess the task asked of him."

The team set up a winch system around a lime tree with a cable attached to the section of the maple which Mr Robinson was removing with his chainsaw

Mr Budworth said when the section fell Mr Robinson had "no opportunity" to avoid it before it knocked him backwards into a hedge and crushed him.

He added that the county council could not delegate health and safety responsibilities and had failed to ensure Mr Robinson's safety.

The court was told there were a series of problems with the way the tree had been cut, and a report from Norfolk-based expert David Walker said an escape route should have been identified.

He said there should have been a survey of the site before hand, which was not done, and the risk assessment procedure had been incomplete.

Stephen Hook, an inspector for the Health and Safety Executive said the site manager, Dougal Urquhart, should not have decided on the work to be done.

He also said that there were unclear messages from the council about when to use a central process form to get risks properly assessed.

Mr Hook's report added that both Mr Robinson and his fellow ranger, Ian Bailey, should have been aware they did not have the required skills for the work they were doing.

He concluded: "All parties involved bore some responsibility for the accident, in addition there were the management failures within Essex County Council."

The court was told the council had made major changes since the accident to all its health and safety procedures in all potentially dangerous activities.

Gerard Forlin, mitigating for the council, said everyone at the council had been "devastated" by the accident.

"There has been a great determination of Essex County Council to move things on and there has been a myriad of systems put in place to prevent things like this happening again," he said.

He added new safeguards were now in place, taking into account the recommendations made by the Health and Safety Executive.

The judge, Anthony Goldstaub QC, said the fine of £200,000 was not meant to represent the value of Mr Robinson's life.

He said there had not been a "clear and robust" system in place to prevent the men from doing the work they were not qualified to do.

He also awarded costs of £15,013, with the council to pay the total amount of £215,013 within 28 days.

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