Man with Learning Difficulties in Fatal Work Accident

Worker dies in tree felling accident 25793

A member of staff employed by Buccleuch Estates in Scotland has died and his employer fined after a tree felling operation went wrong.

Ross Findlay, aged 49, had learning difficulties and was hired by the trust as a forestry worker to act as a signalman, whose job it is to stand in a position where he can ensure the area around a tree is safe.

However, Dumfries Sheriff Court heard that Mr Findlay's difficulties sometimes made it hard for him to be positioned two tree lengths away from where debris could potentially fall and in the case of this fatal accident, he was standing too close.

Mr Findlay and two of his colleagues were felling spruce and larch trees between 26 and 36 metres in height at Borgie Wood in Dumfries when one landed on top of him and killed him immediately.

After it was informed of the accident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched an investigation that found Buccleuch Estates did not properly assess the risks to employees involved in tree felling operations and did not have a safe system of work in place.

There was no adequate information, instruction, supervision or training for personnel involved in this task and it was especially important this was in place given the extent of Mr Findlay's learning difficulties.

It was also discovered equipment was lacking as while employees were told to adhere to the two tree length rule, the winch cable was only 40 metres long and this meant following this guidance for 36 metre tall trees was impossible.

For its part in the failings that led to Mr Findlay's death, the Buccleuch Estates was fined £140,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the trial had finished, HSE inspector Aileen Jardine said, "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."

By Chris Stevenson