Safety experts are urging East Anglian landowners and local authorities to exercise caution when working with trees.
Following the worst winter storms for two decades, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) visited Suffolk today (Wednesday 26 February 2014) to make certain rural workers have tree safety in the forefront of their minds.
Ivan Searle, event organiser for the IOSH East Anglia Branch, said: “People could be seriously hurt – especially during the severe weather conditions we have been experiencing. In strong winds and heavy rain, trees are more likely than ever to fall and cause damage.
“Recent failures of power supply and the rail and road network as a result of the storms highlight the importance of sound preventive maintenance, and the need to ensure competent contractors and fully trained operators are used to carry out clearance operations safely - particularly in hazardous and arduous conditions.”
On 14 February alone, Suffolk police reported they received more than 190 weather-related calls overnight and the following morning - mainly as a result of trees and branches in roads.
Over 100 health and safety professionals, tree specialists, landowners and grounds maintenance workers from across the UK gathered at the Santon Downham Centre, in Santon Downham, to discuss the issues relating to good practice when it comes to land maintenance and ensuring accidents, injuries and fatalities do not happen.
Mr Searle added: “Today’s event isn’t just about ensuring the general public are kept safe, but those who work to maintain trees too. Workers not only risk death or serious injury, falling from a tree or being pulled into a shredder, their health can also be harmed by hazardous chemicals, plant saps, insects such as the oak processionary moth, which can cause severe irritation. More significantly though, noise and vibration from operating machinery cause permanent damage and need to be better understood and managed in this industry.
”Following on from the recent spate of severe weather and the wettest winter on record, the soil and tree root systems may have been damaged and trees need to be checked to ensure they are safe and not likely to fall.”
Every year across the UK members of the public are killed or seriously injured when a tree falls on them.There have been some high-profile incidents and widely reported civil cases relating to poor tree safety and management. Liability concerns amongst landowners have led to a defensive approach and often unnecessary felling of trees.
This event was organised together with the IOSH Rural Industries Group and with the support of a number of local businesses. It provided practical demonstrations of good practice and sensible precautions for hazardous treework and groundcare operations - including safe dismantling of large trees and the use of remote control machines for mowing on steep slopes - based on risk assessment and relevant guidance.
Speakers at the event include Paul Smith, technical officer at the Aboricultural Association, Reg Harris, director at Urban Forestry, Neil Huck, national training manager for Ground Control, John Haddon, public safety advisor from UK Power Networks and Frances Hirst, Health and Safety Executive’s lead inspector on arboriculture.