Forestry firm fined £15k over worker’s death

A countryside management firm has been sentenced over the death of a father-of-four in Barrow-in-Furness, who was struck by a piece of metal that flew off a strimmer at high speed.

Tony Robinson, 37, from Ulverston, died after a link from a chain, spinning at around 300 miles-an-hour on a petrol strimmer, became detached and struck him on the back of the neck, causing fatal injuries at Ramsden Dock in Barrow on 8 February 2010.

ThreeShires Ltd, which specialises in ecological and forestry work, was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive after an investigation into Robinson's death found the work had not been planned or carried out safely.

Barrow Crown Court heard Robinson, a self-employed contractor, had been hired to help clear undergrowth at the site during the construction of the new Waterfront business park. He was using a chainsaw to cut back the overgrown vegetation, with another worker using the strimmer on a nearby bank.

The chain attachment had been added to the strimmer so it could be used for more heavy-duty work. But the HSE investigation found ThreeShires had not properly considered the risks of using the attachment, and had allowed Mr Robinson to work close to where the strimmer was being operated.

Tony Robinson's widow, Jenna, said: "Even though I am no engineer, when I was shown the piece of equipment, common sense told me that it was an accident waiting to happen, with links that could easily fly off. It is obvious that insufficient care was taken to protect anyone in the vicinity.

"I cannot comprehend that a company, supposedly experienced in this type of groundwork, didn't use common sense to realise the equipment was dangerous. This oversight has shattered and ruined my life and that of our children.

"The only small comfort is that the equipment has now been banned so hopefully another family will be spared the anguish we have had to go through and continue to experience with every birthday, Christmas or family occasion."

ThreeShires Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 by failing to ensure the safety of workers. The company, of Kings Gardens in Grantham, Lincolnshire, was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in prosecution costs on 12 March 2012.

Speaking after the hearing, Allen Shute, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: "This was a tragic case which has resulted in the needless death of a worker because the company responsible for his safety didn't do its job properly.

"The chances of him being struck by a piece of metal when the chain became detached were increased by the fact that the strimmer was being operated nearby on a bank above where he was working.

"The company should have properly considered the risks of using a heavy-duty piece of equipment before it allowed the work to take place. If it had, then Mr Robinson's death could have been avoided.

"The chain attachment has since been banned across Europe, and I would urge anyone who still has one to dispose of it immediately."

HSE issued a Safety Alert following Robinson's death, warning that there was a risk of death or serious injury from the use of the strimmer attachment.

It also served an immediate Prohibition Notice against the sole importer of the chain attachments in the UK, which resulted in a nationwide ban on the sale or supply of the product.

The attachment has now also been banned across Europe, after HSE alerted the European Commission to the issue.

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