Trees provide many amenity benefits that are valued by society. They can screen non aesthetic urban blights, soften crude built form, cool and filter the air and break uncomfortable wind speeds. They provide natural shade, and habitats for our wildlife. Their growth, form and habit provide an organic connection to nature and the changing seasons. They provide pleasant settings in which to exercise, aid recovery from illness and promote feelings of well being.
Trees are however large biological organisms. Their health and immune systems can decline and their subsequent structural integrity can fail as a result of systematic defects, disease or decay. Trees or their parts (Hazards) can weigh from as little as a few kilos to as much as several tonnes. Tree parts (twigs, branches and major limbs) can fall from substantial heights, increasing their force of impact and their severity of damage. Considerable failure of roots or the trunk can result in the catastrophic failure of the whole tree.
If the trees are small, immature or situated away from roads, buildings and frequently occupied public areas (Targets), the likelihood of damage or injury occurring (risk), is very low. On the other hand, trees close to roads, buildings and frequently occupied public areas pose a somewhat greater risk, as major failure is more likely to result in damage, injury or death. The risk of serious injury or death in the UK is considered to be small; however this is of little consequence to the injured party or their family when an accident does occur.
Tree owners and managers in the United Kingdom have a duty of care, and as such are required by both Common and Statute law to ensure their trees are in a reasonably safe condition and do not pose an unacceptable level of risk to visitors to the site or neighbours of the land on which trees are situated. This does not however require that all trees are maintained completely risk free as this would be an impossible task to achieve.
Owners and managers of large organisations or commercial premises have a further duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure a safe place of work and to protect non employees (members of public) from risks associated with their enterprise (which includes their premises). Suitable risk assessment of large sites may identify various levels of risk and use which require different levels and frequency of inspections (zoning).
In order to discharge the duty, an owner or manager must be able to show that their trees have been managed or maintained in a reasonable and proportionate way. Trees should therefore be inspected at regular intervals based on the level of risk posed. A competent person, owner or employee who has a basic knowledge of trees and their defects could undertake the initial inspection. They should however, be aware of the limits of their knowledge and realise when to seek further professional advice. If the inspection identifies or raises concerns which could be considered different from a otherwise healthy tree, advice should be sought from a qualified, competent and experienced arboriculturalist.
Unless the trees are owned by a commercial enterprise or large organisation it is not a legal requirement to keep records of the inspections or risk assessments. It is however advisable to keep records as this proves a proactive system of tree inspections was carried out should an accident happen and a criminal prosecution or civil claim arise. A tree survey and tree report will identify the risks posed, works required to reduce them to an acceptable level and provide a specification and time frame in which works should be completed. Any specified works should be completed within prescribed time frames to ensure the duty of care has been met.
Where tree owners do not feel that they are competent to inspect trees themselves, they should employ a professional tree surgeon/Arboriculturalist who has the sufficient skills, knowledge, ability, training and experience to inspect or survey their trees in a competent manner. An instruction to undertake the tree inspection or survey should be clear, definitive and preferably in writing. A suitably qualified person is likely to hold a recognised qualification in Arboriculture or Forestry and be able to show they maintain their knowledge through regular training events and reading.
Treescapes NI’s consultants provide a province wide service to our residential and commercial customers helping them to meet their duty of care, in a structured and defensible way. We have many years experience in assessing the health, safety and conditions of trees on all sites from small private residential gardens, to large commercial sites. We can help our clients formulate and implement tree management systems and risk limitation strategies. We carry out specified works in accordance with industry best practice and British Standard Recommendations for tree works 2010 (BS 3998).
All of our consultants are qualified Arboriculturalist’s who hold Professional Tree Inspection qualifications.
If you would like to know more about your responsibility as a tree owner or manager please contact our office on 028 9070 5161 or email your enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our consultants will contact you.
Based in Belfast, Treescapes NI is one of the provinces leading tree surgery companies. Other aspects of our work include; tree maintenance, tree pruning, tree thinning, tree felling and removal, tree planting, hedge trimming, stump grinding, firewood supply, storm damage prevention and repair, site clearance.