Victorian School convicted and fined $140k after tree branch death
Melbourne private school Haileybury College has been convicted and fined $140,000 after a grounds worker was killed when he was struck by a tree branch in 2018.
After school had previously pleading guilty to the two charges under the OHS Act, the Melbourne County Court on Monday handed down fines of $90,000 for failing to provide or maintain safe systems of work and $50,000 for failing to provide information, instruction, training or supervision.
On 14 February 2018, a grounds worker was found dead lying next to a large eucalyptus branch and a pile of smaller cut branches at the school's Berwick campus. He had a head wound, and was not wearing a helmet. Two chainsaws were nearby, one still running.
An arborist testified that cuts to the tree indicated the worker was most likely cutting up the branch while it was still attached to or supported by the tree trunk, creating pressure that could make it move unpredictably.
WorkSafe's investigation revealed the tree had previously been assessed as at risk of branch falls and the school's tree management plan recommended no live foliage be removed and no one stand beneath it. It found that it would have been reasonably practicable for Haileybury to provide and maintain a system of work for deciding whether branches should be cut by an external contractor or an employee. This would include having an appropriately trained worker identify and assess the hazards associated with a task; and, where work was undertaken by employees, ensuring risks were controlled and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) was used.
The school also failed to inform employees of the risks associated with cutting a branch from a tree with a chainsaw.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said employers must do everything reasonably practicable to maintain safe work processes and ensure workers have appropriate training, information and equipment to work safely. "Every year workers are seriously injured while trimming, pruning or removing trees – tragically, in this case a worker has lost his life," Dr Beer said. "This death could have been avoided if a system had been in place for assessing and controlling the risks and ensuring the work was completed by someone with appropriate expertise and equipment."
Read more: WorkSafe media release which includes advice on how to reduce the risk when working with trees. The UK's HSE has a specific webpage on this topic: Tree work health and safety.
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.