School operator fined over tree felling injuries

A school operator has been fined £35,000 after a man suffered permanent spinal injuries while felling a tree on school grounds in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

The man was using a chainsaw to fell a mature sycamore tree at Bassetsbury Manor, home of Crown House Preparatory School, in April 2013 as he helped defendant Paolo Mule to clear the site for building work. They had been contracted by the operator of Crown House, Alpha Schools Limited, to carry out the work.

Aylesbury Crown Court heard on 5 June that a large, partially cut branch swung down and hit the ladder the worker was standing on, throwing him to the ground where he landed on his back. He suffered spinal injuries that mean he will have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

A Health and Safety Executive investigation found Alpha Schools failed to engage competent contractors to carry out the work and that Mr Mule failed to undertake a risk assessment for this. There was no safe system of work in place, no ropes were used and the ladder was not secured. The work was not adequately segregated and there were members of the public nearby.

Alpha Schools Limited, of High Wycombe was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company also agreed to make an ex gratia payment of £50,000 to the injured man.

Mr Mule, trading as P&X Complete Cleaning Services of High Wycombe, was given an 18 months prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to pay £2,000 costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

After the case, HSE Principal Inspector Karl Howes said: “Arboriculture work remains high risk, particularly work at height in trees. Such work must only be undertaken by competent and trained contractors. All businesses have a duty to ensure they engage… competent contractors when carrying out tree work.”

The case highlights the attention to detail that schools and other organisations must pay to all aspects of health and safety, including ensuring that other businesses or tradespeople that they employ to work on specific projects comply with their own health and safety obligations.

Palmers’ specialists can provide comprehensive advice to schools on health and safety issues to help them manage risk and provide a safe environment for pupils, staff, parents and other visitors. For more information on Palmers’ health and safety compliance services, please contact Lara Murray or for health and safety investigations and prosecutions, please contact Jeremy Sirrell.