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October 7, 2009

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Council failed to learn from previous mower incidents

A council worker suffered serious chest injuries after falling off a ride-on lawnmower, while cutting grass on a steep slope.

Cheltenham Borough Council was fined a total of £14,000 and ordered to pay costs of £18,530 at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court on 28 September, after pleading guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, and reg. 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The court heard that a council gardener was using a ride-on lawnmower to clip grass at Hatherley Park in Cheltenham, when the incident took place on 21 May 2008. He was preparing the grass ahead of an inspection by judges from The Green Flag Award, the national standard for parks and green spaces in England and Wales.

The gardener began to cut grass on a slope that was too steep for the mower, and the machine slipped down the bank and collided with a park bench. He was thrown from the mower and landed on the bench, narrowly avoiding a colleague who was sat on the other side of the seat. He was taken to hospital for treatment for two broken ribs and a compressed lung, and was unable to return to work for 11 weeks.

An investigation by the HSE revealed that the gardener had not received suitable instructions about the dangers of operating the machine on slopes. It was also discovered that there had been a number of previous incidents involving the mowers, and the council had failed to take steps to address these risks.

In July 2008 the council was issued an Improvement Notice for failing to carry out a risk assessment to ensure the safe cutting of grass. HSE inspector Alison Fry said: “This incident was entirely avoidable. This incident sends out a clear message to employers to ensure that they carry out risk assessment, taking all site conditions into account, including steepness of slopes, before deciding which equipment is suitable.”

In mitigation, the council said it had no previous convictions and it has fully complied with the terms of the Improvement Notice. Cheltenham Borough Council assistant director for human resources, Amanda Attfield, said:  “We were clearly very concerned at this injury to one of our employees and we have co-operated fully with the HSE. We recognise that there were areas concerning the use of ride on mowers, which needed improving and as such we have taken very positive steps to make this area of work as safe and risk free as possible.  

“We also now have two health and safety advisors who work with all employees to try and minimise the risk of injury or ill health arising at work.”

Inspector Fry added: “The council should provide appropriate training for employees – with adequate instructions so that the mower operators can work safely.

“The injured party and his nearby colleague, who escaped any harm, were lucky and the fact that this was not a fatality was only a matter of chance.”


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