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December 20, 2013

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Worker with learning difficulties killed in tree-felling operation


The Buccleuch Estates Limited has been fined after a worker died during tree-felling operations at Bogrie Wood in Dumfries.
Ross Findlay, 49, who had learning difficulties, died after being struck in the head and body by a 36-metre-tall tree which had been uprooted and knocked over by another tree being felled.
Mr Findlay was acting as a signalman between two other workers also involved in the tree felling operation.
The Buccleuch Estates Limited was prosecuted on the 18 December after an HSE investigation found that the estate had failed to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, implement a safe system of work or provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision for employees who were engaged in the tree felling task.
Dumfries Sheriff Court was told that between 5 and 11 January 2011, Mr Findlay and two colleagues were felling spruce and larch trees ranging between 26 and 36 metres in height at Bogrie Wood. 
Mr Findlay was acting as a signalman between his two co-workers. He should have been positioned at least two tree lengths away from the tree being felled, however, as a result of his learning difficulties, he at times did not appreciate distance and was well within the ‘two tree’ exclusion zone when he was struck and killed. 
The investigation concluded that The Buccleuch Estates Limited failed to properly assess the risks to employees while undertaking felling operations, failed to provide safe and suitable equipment, failed to maintain a safe system of work and failed to provide sufficient training and supervision to enable them to undertake chainsaw and felling work.
Although in principle the work was supposed to adhere to the ‘two tree’ rule — whereby all people and machinery involved in the felling operation would be outside an exclusion zone equalling the length and span of two trees — the winch cable was only 40 metres long, far too short for felling trees of between 26 and 36 metres.
The Buccleuch Estates Limited, of Weatherhouse, Bowhill, Selkirk, was fined £140,000 after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the HSWA 1974. No costs are awarded in Scotland.
Following the case, HSE inspector Aileen Jardine, said: “This was an entirely avoidable incident and the failures by The Buccleuch Estate directly resulted in Mr Findlay’s tragic death.
“A system of waves and nods is not a safe way to manage the felling of large, heavy trees and put all three workers at unnecessary risk.
“This informal and unsafe way of working had been in place unchallenged and not updated for over 15 years with the Estate making no efforts to follow industry safety guidelines or to even accurately assess the risks its workers faced. As a result a vulnerable man has been killed.”

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