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Tree management (HSE guidance)

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Each year between 5 and 6 people in the UK are killed when trees or branches fall on them. Around 3 people are killed each year by trees in public spaces. Thus the risk of being struck and killed by a tree or branch falling is extremely low (in the order of one in 10 million for those trees in or adjacent to areas of high public use). Tree work can be a high-risk activity and workers may be required to operate in, for example, areas frequented by the public and in all weathers. Effective training is an essential requirement for ensuring this work is carried out both safely and efficiently.

  • Management of the risk from falling trees or branches:

  • Suggested approach to tree management

    • Given the large number of trees in public spaces across the country, control measures that involve inspecting and recording every tree would be disproportionate to the risk. Individual tree inspection is only likely to be necessary in specific circumstances, for example, where a particular tree:
      • is in a place frequently visited by the public;
      • has been identified, for example, as having structural faults that are likely to make it unstable; and
      • a decision has been made to retain it with these faults.
    • Public safety aspects can be addressed by tree owners as part of their approach to managing tree health. A sensible approach will ensure the maintenance of a healthy tree stock, the sound management of the environment and will usually satisfy health and safety requirements.
    • An effective system for managing trees should meet the requirements set out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the associated ACOP (guidance is contained in HSG 65 Successful health and safety management and INDG 163 Five steps to risk assessment). Such a system is likely to address the following:
      • An overall assessment of risks from trees - identifying groups of trees by their position and degree of public access. This will enable the risks associated with tree stocks to be prioritised, and help identify any checks or inspections needed.
      • There are several approaches to managing the risks from trees that involve 'zoning' trees according to the risk of them falling and causing serious injury or death. As a minimum, trees should be divided into two zones:
    • Zone one where there is frequent public access to trees (eg parks/ recreation grounds, in and around picnic areas, schools, children's playgrounds, popular foot paths, car parks, or at the side of busy roads). As a rough guide trees in Zone 1 are those that are closely approached by many people every day.
    • Zone two where trees are not subject to frequent public access.
    • In most case individual records for trees are unlikely to be necessary if zones and the trees in the zones are clearly defined - maps may be useful here.
    • For trees in a frequently visited zone, a system for periodic, proactive checks is appropriate. This should involve a quick visual check for obvious signs that a tree is likely to be unstable and be carried out by a person with a working knowledge of trees and their defects, but who need not be an arboriculture specialist. Informing staff who work in parks or highways as to what to look for would normally be enough.
    • Any system that is put in place for managing tree safety should be properly applied and monitored, including:
      • A short record of when an area or zone or occasionally an individual tree has been checked or inspected with details of any defects found and action taken.
      • A system for obtaining specialist assistance / remedial action when a check reveals defects out with the experience and knowledge of the person carrying out the check.
      • A system to enable people to report damage to trees, such as vehicle collisions, and to trigger checks following potentially damaging activities such as work by the utilities in the vicinity of trees or severe gales.
      • Procedures for ensuring the safety of the public during high winds, for example, where practicable by closing or restricting access to parks and gardens or footpaths.
      • Monitoring to ensure that the arrangements are implemented in practice.
    • Occasionally a duty holder may have responsibility for trees that have, for example, serious structural faults but which they decide to retain. Where such a condition is suspected and the tree also poses a potentially serious risk because, for example, its proximity to an area of high public use, a specific assessment for that tree and specific management measures, are likely to be appropriate.
    • Once a tree has been identified by a check to present an elevated risk, action should be planned and taken to manage the risk. Any arboriculture work required should be carried out by a competent arboriculturist as such work tends to present a relatively high risk to the workers involved.
    • Inspection of individual trees will only be necessary where, for example, a tree is in, or adjacent to, an area of high public use, has structural faults that are likely to make it unstable and a decision has been made to retain the tree with these faults.
  • Tree surgeons

    • During the last 10 years 24 tree surgeons/arborists have been killed during tree work and nearly 1,400 have suffered an injury.
    • The key cause of these accidents are chainsawsfalls from height or being struck by falling timber / trees.
    • Employers must make sure employees are trained and competent to do the work.
    • Employees you must maintain all equipment in good condition and report any faults to your employer.
    • Employees use all personal protective equipment that your employers gives you and report any faults.
    • Key concerns for tree surgeons are:
  • Tree climbing operations

    • This leaflet includes advice for climbers on safe working practices for tree-climbing operations and climbing procedures, and on how to use some common climbing aids. It also includes advice on the responsibilities of ground staff.
    • You can use this leaflet, along with the equipment manufacturer's guidance, as part of your risk assessment to identify the controls you need to put in place when carrying out tree-climbing operations.
  • Training and certification

    • Tree work can be a high-risk activity and workers may be required to operate in, for example, areas frequented by the public, areas adjacent to the highway or railway, in remote areas with difficult terrain and in all weathers. Effective training is an essential requirement for ensuring this work is carried out both safely and efficiently.
    • All workers must be adequately trained and competent to carry out their job safely. The Health and Safety at Work (General) (Guernsey) Ordinance, 1987 places general duties on employers and the self-employed to provide health and safety training and information (INDG345 Health and safety training (PDF) .
    • Employers to provide health and safety training for workers, when:
      • they first start work, ie induction training
      • they are exposed to new or increased risks
      • they require refresher training - this is recommended at specific intervals for  certain high-risk activities, eg operating machinery, including chainsaw
      • a supervisor identifies specific weaknesses in an operator's abilities
    • Employers must provide this training during working hours and employees must not have to pay for it.
    • People new to a task should receive adequate information and training to do their work safely and effectively. Depending on the nature of the work, the training may vary from simple instructions provided by their supervisor, through to nationally recognised courses providing comprehensive basic training
    • Find out more



COSHH Risk Assessment Example Management of Health and Safety in Forestry DEC 2019

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