Two Sentenced After Tree Mishap

The Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council and a tree surgeon pleaded guilty in the case, which involved an errant attempt to remove two trees near railroad tracks in January 2012.

Two parties – the Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council and a tree surgeon – were sentenced last week for safety violations in connection with a tree removal that went wrong, Britain's Health and Safety Executive reported. Peter Wood, 52, and tree surgeon Mark Connelly were hired to remove two poplar trees next to the Newcastle to Carlisle railway line on Jan. 11, 2012, because they were in danger of falling onto the track. As Wood was cutting one of them down, it twisted and fell onto the track, uprooting a second tree on its way, HSE reported.

As Wood and Connelly tried to cut the tree away from the track, an oncoming train struck it, injuring Wood and causing about $166,000 in damage to the train. Wood sustained a fractured right ankle, cuts, and bruises. HSE's investigation showed Network Rail had not been told about the felling operation near its line, and that the council failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that Connelly was competent to carry out work on large trees, such as checking if he had the relevant qualifications. He was not, according to HSE.

Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council was fined and ordered to pay costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974; Connelly, 42, was sentenced to 150 hours of community service and ordered to pay costs after pleading guilty to breaching the same law.

"Mr. Wood's painful injury and Northern Rail’s unexpected bill for almost £100,000 could all have been avoided," HSE Inspector Jonathan Wills said. "The decision to fell a mature poplar tree on a steep slope within falling distance of an active railway line without informing Network Rail and not using a precautionary winch was indicative of Mr. Connelly's poor planning. It is vital that as part of the risk assessment that surrounding hazards, such as railway lines or overhead power lines, are identified and controls put in place to reduce the risk of the trees being felled towards them."

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