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Council fined after school janitor loses toe

07 November 2013

Fife Council has been fined for health and safety failings after a school janitor was injured while undertaking chainsaw work.

Craig Davies, then aged 39, a council employee for more than 20 years, lost his toe while cutting back the branches of a tree that had blown down in high winds.

Fife Council was prosecuted on 4th November after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the council failed to assess risks, implement a safe system of work and instruct and supervise employees on a dangerous task.

Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court was told that in September 2011 Fife Council’s Education Service identified a possible extension to the services provided by school janitors. In addition to simple gardening duties in school grounds, they would undertake basic chainsaw work, particularly on fallen branches or trees, duties which were normally carried out by the Council’s Parks Department.

In November 2011, Mr Davies and two other workers from the educational facility service underwent basic chainsaw training.

On 11 January 2012, Mr Davies was sent to Canmore Primary School in Dunfermline where an ash tree had blown down. On arrival, he realised the job was bigger than anticipated and contacted a colleague for assistance.

The two men set to work, detaching and reducing the branches until they were left with the trunk and a single limb attached at above-shoulder height.

Mr Davies climbed onto the trunk and started cutting through the limb. It sheared away from the trunk, came towards him and landed on his foot trapping it against the trunk.

Mr Davies required three surgical procedures but doctors were unable to save one of his toes. He spent three months recuperating before returning to work.

The HSE investigation concluded Fife Council failed to properly assess the risks to employees in the educational facility service while undertaking chainsaw operations; failed to maintain a safe system of work and provide sufficient training and supervision to enable them to undertake chainsaw work.

Fife Council, of Fife House, North Street, Glenrothes, was fined £20,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.   Following the case, HSE Inspector Kerry Cringan, said:

"The failures by Fife Council resulted in Mr Davies suffering a significant and serious injury.

"Chainsaw operations are, by their very nature, hazardous. Fife Council, having reached a position where these employees had the most basic of chainsaw qualifications, dispatched them to single-handedly tackle a job that was far in excess of their capabilities.

"As a result they found themselves in a situation outside of their experience, but without recognising it was beyond their abilities. Employers must ensure that chainsaw operations are carefully planned and supervised, particularly when employees are not experienced in arboricultural work.”

In forestry and arboriculture (between 2004/05 to 2010/11) chainsaws caused five deaths in Great Britain. In addition 131 workers suffered major injuries while using sawing and cutting tools with a further 355 suffering injuries that kept them off work for more than three days. For more information about using chainsaws safely visit: www.hse.gov.uk/treework/areyou/chainsaw-operator.htm