Council fined after death of girl hit by falling tree. A council has been fined £280,000 after the death of a six-year-old girl who was hit by a falling tree in her school playground.
Ella Henderson was playing with friends at Gosforth Park First School in Newcastle upon Tyne on 25 September 2020 when a decaying willow tree collapsed.
The Year 2 pupil was freed from under the tree by emergency services and taken to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, where she died the following morning.
Her parents Neil and Vikki Henderson today paid tribute to their daughter and said every part of their family’s lives had changed since losing Ella.
Several other children were hit by the falling tree but managed to escape, some with superficial injuries.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the tree had decayed and was in a poor condition.
Newcastle City Council had failed to identify the extent of the decay or to manage the risk posed by the tree.
Newcastle City Council pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £280,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,020 by South Tyneside Magistrates on 10 January 2023.
“This terrible incident led to the avoidable death of a young girl. HSE hopes others will learn from what happened to Ella. Our thoughts remain with Ella’s family.”HSE Inspector Ashfaq Ali
Mr and Mrs Henderson said: “We would like to thank the police and the Health and Safety Executive for their thorough investigations, and the kindness and sensitivity they have treated us with throughout. We are devastated beyond words to hear of the number of times that this outcome could and should have been changed. No family should ever have to go through what we are going through. We hope lessons will be learned from this and feel there needs to be better education and information around which trees are appropriate for school playgrounds and the size they are allowed to grow to.
“We would kindly ask that our privacy is now respected whilst we continue to try to navigate and rebuild our lives around the huge hole that has been created in our life without our beautiful Ella.”
In a statement, Ella’s mum Vikki, from Newcastle,
“Up until 25th Sept 2020 we had the perfect life. There was not one thing we would have changed. We had two happy, healthy, little girls who were just the best of friends and life was amazing. Having lived that life, we now live with a complete hole in our lives. Having a six year old who loves life and wakes up every morning with ‘What are we doing today, Mummy?’, loving everything we did and everywhere we went, to suddenly this life, is just indescribable. Taking her big sister places now and knowing how much she would love everywhere we go and taking photos without her is heart breaking.
Following the court ruling, the Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council made a statement.
“Ella’s death was a devastating tragedy, and our hearts go out to her family and friends. Whilst we take our health and safety responsibilities very seriously, we fully accept that there were failings in our processes which is why we have pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity. We note the Judge’s comments today and fully accept the sentence of the court.
“Immediately following the incident, we reviewed our processes and as a result, we have put in place new procedures to prevent something like this from ever happening again.
“We would like to offer our sincere and profound condolences and apologise unreservedly to Ella’s family for their unimaginable loss.”Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council, Pam Smith
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 requires employers and those in charge of premises to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the safety of employees and others. A key element of ensuring the safety of employees and others are risk assessments which are used to identify the risks which are present and the control measures to be implemented to eliminate or reduce those risks.
Employers are required by law to protect their employees, and others, from harm. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the minimum an employer must do is:
- identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
- decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
- take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk
Assessing risk is just one part of the overall process used to control risks in the workplace. For most small, low-risk businesses the steps that employers need to take are straightforward. Risk management is a step-by-step process for controlling health and safety risks caused by hazards in the workplace. An employer can undertake the risk assessment themselves or appoint a competent person to help. The five steps of a risk assessment are:
- Identify hazards
- Assess the risks
- Control the risks
- Record your findings
- Review the controls
Look around your workplace and think about what may cause harm (these are called hazards). Think about:
- how people work and how plant and equipment are used
- what chemicals and substances are used
- what safe or unsafe work practices exist
- the general state of your premises
Look back at previous accident and ill health records as these can help you identify less obvious hazards. Take account of non-routine operations, such as maintenance, cleaning or changes in production cycles. Think about hazards to health, such as manual handling, use of chemicals and causes of work-related stress. For each hazard, think about how employees, contractors, visitors or members of the public might be harmed.
Some workers have particular requirements, for example young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers and people with disabilities. Ensure that you involve your employees as they will usually have good ideas.
Assess the risks
Once you have identified the hazards, decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how serious it could be – this is assessing the level of risk. In assessing the level of risk, decide:
- Who might be harmed and how
- What you’re already doing to control the risks
- What further action you need to take to control the risks
- Who needs to carry out the action
- When the action is needed by
Control the risks
Look at what you are already doing, and the controls you already have in place to ensure the safety of workers and others. Consider:
- Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?
- If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?
If you need further controls, consider:
- redesigning the job
- replacing the materials, machinery or process
- organising your work to reduce exposure to the materials, machinery or process
- identifying and implementing practical measures needed to work safely
- providing personal protective equipment and making sure workers wear it
Put the controls you have identified in place. It is important to remember that you are not expected to eliminate all risks but you need to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble.
Record your findings
If you employ 5 or more people, you must record your significant findings, including:
- the hazards (things that may cause harm)
- who might be harmed and how
- what you are doing to control the risks
The HSE has a number of example risk assessments on its website as a guide for employers. Employers should not rely purely on paperwork, as the main priority should be to control the risks in practice.
Review the controls
You must review the controls you have put in place to make sure they are working. You should also review them if:
- they may no longer be effective
- there are changes in the workplace that could lead to new risks such as changes to:
- a process
- the substances or equipment used
Also consider a review if your workers have spotted any problems or there have been any accidents or near misses. You should then update your risk assessment record with any changes you make.
If you require advice on health and safety in your workplace, please contact one of the Jacksons team.
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