Newcastle Crown Court has fined a North East council and a tree surgeon for significant health and safety failings after a tree which, was being felled landed on a railway track and was hit by an oncoming train.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident which occurred in early 2012. The HSE found that the company carrying out the conservation work was owned by an individual who was not appropriately trained to fell trees. He omitted to put in any safety devices to prevent the tree from falling in the wrong direction. Furthermore, the council had failed to check that he had relevant qualifications and had not notified Northern rail of the conservation work.
During the removal of two trees one of the trees twisted and fell on the railway track. The company owner and an employee attempted to remove the tree from the line when an approaching train braked but hit the tree and injured the worker.
The worker sustained injuries to his head, ankle, arm and thigh.
The court heard that the repairs to the train, callout and material costs totalled £100,000 and the injuries caused to the worker could have been avoided.
The court sentenced the tree surgeon to 150 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £5,854 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The council was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £5,854 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching the same act.
Following the hearing, HSE Inspector Jonathan Wills stated:
“The decision to fell a mature poplar tree on a steep slope within falling distance of an active railway line without informing Network Rail and not using a precautionary winch was indicative of [The Owner’s] poor planning. “It is vital that as part of the risk assessment that surrounding hazards, such as railway lines or overhead power lines are identified, and controls put in place to reduce the risk of the trees being felled towards them.”