Ross Findlay, aged 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 as he was acting as a signalman between two other workers also involved in the tree felling operation.
The Buccleuch Estates Limited has been prosecuted after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the estate 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 working 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 colleagues, one of whom was cutting the trees with a chainsaw and the other who was pulling the felled trees into the crop using a tractor winch. This involved Mr Findlay standing in a position where he could see both the other men and could in turn be seen by them both.
Mr Findlay’s role was to act as 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 distances and was well within the ‘two tree’ exclusion zone when he was struck and killed.
The HSE investigation concluded 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 Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. 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."