School fined for failing to engage competent tree firm after untrained worker seriously injured

A private preparatory school and its contractor have been ordered to pay over £110,000 after a man suffered permanent spinal injuries while felling a tree on the school's grounds.

The unnamed 59-year-old man was using a chainsaw to fell a mature sycamore tree at Bassetsbury Manor, Buckinghamshire, home to Crown House Preparatory School, on 22 April 2013.

He was helping one of the defendants, Paolo Mule, of P&X Complete Cleaning Services, which had been contracted by the school's owner Alpha Schools to clear a site for building work.

Aylesbury Crown Court heard today (5 June) that a large partially cut branch swung down and hit the ladder on which the worker was standing, throwing him to the ground where he landed on his back. He is now unable to walk and will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the school failed to engage competent contractors to undertake the arboriculture work, and that Mule failed to undertake a risk assessment for the work.

There was no safe system of work in place, it was not adequately segregated when members of the public were nearby, no ropes were used, and the ladder was not secured.

Alpha Schools Limited was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs after pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It also agreed to pay an ex gratia payment of £50,000 to the injured worker.

Paolo Mule, trading as P&X Complete Cleaning Services, was given an 18-month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to pay £2,000 costs after pleading guilty to breaching the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

After the case, HSE principal inspector Karl Howes said: "Arboriculture work remains high-risk, particularly at height, and must only be undertaken by competent and trained contractors. All businesses have a duty to ensure they engage in competent contractors when carrying out tree work."

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