Trees- Picturesque, Perilous or Both

Trees are beautiful, they provide so many benefits to the environment around us.  A home for birds to nest, food and protection.  For us, they provide shade on a hot summer’s day, they help with our mental health and destressing and of course give off oxygen that we breathe.  We utilise their wood for all manner of means, we produce wine corks and where would we be without rubber gloves.

I have a beautiful blossom tree at the bottom of my garden, similar to the one pictured here.  My garden would look bare without it.  For about three weeks in a year, the tree blossoms and provides my family with a spectacle to enjoy.  In fact, my father in law used to refer to broccoli as trees, something his grandchildren still do.  However, trees can if mismanaged cause devastation to a family.

In September 2020 we saw the fatality of a six-year old girl in Newcastle after she was hit by a falling tree.  In July 2020 we saw the prosecution of Wirral Borough Council for a tree falling and striking a vehicle that contained a pregnant mother and two children. 

It is vitally important that those in the public sector inspect trees that they have a responsibility and duty to manage.  In the Wirral Borough Council case, the council had failed to inspect trees for thirteen years.  In 2012 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) during an investigation of a fatality involving a thirteen-year-old girl, found that Yaxley Parish Council had not ensured risk assessments were conducted by qualified inspectors and there were over twenty trees that needed immediate removal or treatment.

The importance of managing trees should not be under estimated.

In 2004, Surrey County Council also failed to manage trees and ‘complacency’ was cited.  However, in this case, the County Council were not prosecuted given that Arboricultural experts had determined that the tree (prior to falling) was in a healthy condition and an inspection would not have prevented the tree falling and the fatality of an eight-year-old.  Therefore, organisations who have large portfolios of trees should be able to take some comfort that if they are doing the right thing and managing trees as set out in the guidance ‘Common sense risk management of trees’, then during a subsequent investigation to an injury or fatality, it may be determined that the organisation had done everything that was reasonably practicable.

If you are a tree owner, enjoy your trees, but ensure they are managed well.

Scott is a member of the HSE People Panel offering insight into HSE in the Public Sector. If you would like to ask Scott or another panel member a question get in touch