Health and safety risks need respect

Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
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Each year between five and six people in the UK are killed when trees or branches fall on them.

Around three people are killed each year by trees in public spaces. Thus the risk of being struck and killed by a tree or branch falling is extremely low, (in the order of one in 10 million for those trees in or adjacent to areas of high public use).

However the low level of overall risk may not be perceived in this way by the public, particularly following an incident.

The average risk is firmly in the broadly acceptable region of the tolerability of risk triangle published in HSE’s Reducing Risks Protecting People.

However, Reducing Risks, Protecting People explicitly states that “broadly acceptable” is a general guide and not a definitive statement of what is reasonably practicable in law.

Employers and persons carrying out undertakings or in control of premises all have duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

In particular, there is the duty to do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure that people are not exposed to risk to their health and safety.

Doing all that is reasonably practicable does not mean that all trees have to be individually examined on a regular basis.

A decision has to be taken on what is reasonable in the circumstances and this will include consideration of the risks to which people may be exposed.

Around half of all fatalities due to falling trees or branches occur in public spaces, such as a park or beside roads, so Section 3 HSW Act may apply.

While HSE may regard the average risk as extremely low, the law requires that where reasonably practicable measures are available, in individual cases, they should be taken.

While the risk of such incidents puts them outside HSE’s and local authorities’ main proactive priorities, inspectors may be called upon to investigate serious incidents, including fatalities

Management of the risk of falling trees is covered in HSE Local Authority Circular Number 23/22 which gives advice to all visiting staff, including local authority enforcement officers.

I sympathise with residents who wish to keep their favourite trees but they must respect the responsibility of local authority officials to comply with Health and Safety requirement.

William Ronksley

Pond Road, Sheffield, S6