Bradford Council has admitted serious safety breaches after one of its parks' employees narrowly escaped death when he plunged eleven metres from the cradle of a cherry picker.
Bradford Magistrates heard the 23-year-old arboricultural worker from Bingley was working at a height of some 35 feet pruning dead branches in Bierley Hall Woods when the cherry picker overturned, sending him crashing to the ground.
He suffered multiple injuries including fractures to his spine, collar bone, pelvis and right leg, plus internal injuries that required surgery. The council employee, who was 22 when the incident happened on 27 July 2012, was off work for more than five months.
Although he has since returned, he is no longer able to carry out tree work at height.
The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Bradford Council after identifying a series of failings involving the planning and preparation of the tree work and the use of the cherry picker.
The court was told two tree workers set up the cherry picker correctly on a compacted path in the woods and one of them was working in the extended cradle among the tree tops. As he rotated the boom arm and cradle anti-clockwise to move from tree to tree, the weight distribution of the machine changed and the cherry picker overturned.
HSE found that when the weight shifted, one of the vehicle's stabiliser feet had slid off a ground mat and then sunk into the soft ground at the side of the compacted path. The wrong type of ground mats had been provided to the team to put underneath the machine's feet. The unbalanced machine then toppled without warning.
The investigation identified that the council had failed to properly plan and organise the safety aspects of the tree pruning work. No one had realised that the distance between the stabiliser feet was greater than the width of the path. In addition all the council workers who did tree work in off-road locations had never been trained to do the work in soft, sloping or uneven ground. All the training had been done in a depot yard.
Bradford Council was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £9,623 in costs after admitting breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to ensure the safety of one of its employees while working at height.
After the hearing, HSE Inspector David Welsh said: "A young man has suffered life-changing injuries as a result of a number of failures by Bradford Council but we could easily have been dealing with a fatal injury considering the distance of this worker's fall.
"The use of a vehicle-mounted cherry picker for work at height needs to be properly planned and organised. The Council failed to assess the risks of the tree pruning work and provided unsuitable mats for the stabiliser feet, which led to an unsafe system of work being in operation.
"A cherry picker is specialist lifting equipment for work at height and the council did not have a lifting plan in place for its general use for tree pruning, despite the dangers of using such lifting equipment being well known.
"Work at height remains one of the most significant causes of death and major injuries among workers. All such work must be carefully planned and workers need the correct equipment for each task and adequate supervision."
For information and advice about safe use of a cherry picker, visitwww.hse.gov.uk/falls/heightaware/mewp.htm