Date: 16 March 2017  Venue:Newton Rigg College, Penrith, Cumbria

The main themes of our rural event Trees Grass and Caterpillars were: tree safety, safe grass mowing on slopes and occupational health problems including noise and vibration from machinery as well as allergies caused by exposure to plants and shrubs.

This joint rural event departed from our usual joint meeting format. It was the brain child of Geoff Price, Chairman, South Cumbria & North Lancashire IOSH District. He was inspired by a presentation, given by Alan Plom, about a rural event in the south of England. After hearing Alan’s presentation Geoff realised that a similar joint project, organised by South Cumbria & North Lancashire IOSH District, SCOHSG, the IOSH Rural Industries Group, HSE and Newton Rigg Agricultural College, would help our local safety groups reach out to workers who do not normally attend our meetings.

The day was divided into two main sessions – a theoretical session in the morning followed by a convivial lunch and practical demonstrations outside in the afternoon.

After Geoff Price welcomed delegates, Alan Plom, IOSH Rural Industries Group summarised the objectives for the day. He explained the breadth of the UK rural industries sector as well as introducing us to role of the IOSH Rural Industries Group. He then used the title of the event: Trees, Grass and Caterpillars to highlight the problems associated with felling and pruning trees, grass mowing, and caterpillars. For instance, he noted that the term caterpillars can be used to describe natural sources of allergens in the environment as well as to describe powerful earth moving machines with all their associated hazards.

A copy of his presentation can be found here: Aims and objectives of the day

Andrew Turner, from HSE’s Forestry, Arboriculture and Agriculture Machinery Team then used recent outdoor accidents to illustrate the potential risks posed by tree work and ride-on mowers. He said that forestry is one of our most dangerous industries and commented that in both arboriculture and amenity horticulture, the same practices are going wrong year after year. Andrew noted that for every forestry accident reported to HSE investigations showed that the injured person had been in an avoidable unsafe situation – the accident could have been avoided by using well known precautions that are and clearly documented in existing HSE and manufacturers’ guidance manuals.

He emphasized the importance of planning before work was started so that adequate controls could be put in place. The planning process should include:

  • Using adequately trained and competent workers for specific tasks.
  • Provision of suitable work equipment.
  • Safe systems of work.
  • Robust equipment maintenance programmes.
  • Provision of clear information about the equipment and task to employees.
  • Adequate processes for the selection and management of sub-contractors.
  • Adequate on site supervision/management.
  • Monitoring of performance

A copy of Andrew’s presentation can be found here: Tree and land management: the Regulators Perspective

Neil Huck from Ground Control then spoke about occupational health risks associated with the forestry, agriculture and arboriculture industries. He reminded delegates that forestry and agricultural work could expose workers to occupational health risks such as: hand arm vibration, whole body vibration, hearing damage, dust, as well as to allergens from plants and insects. Neil then looked at some practical solutions to these problems such as battery operated saws and remote control mowers.

A copy of Neil’s presentation can be found here: Occupational health issues in ground care and tree work

Paul Smith, Technical Officer, Arboricultural Association, spoke about the importance to us of trees and some of the simple steps involved in creating tree policies and engaging with contractors. His key messages were:

  • Trees are important so that we should look after them.
  • Have a plan, ideally documented.
  • Engage the right people to do the right jobs.

A copy of his presentation can be found here: Contractor engagement and management

After lunch delegates were divided into four groups for the practical demonstrations. Each of the delegate groups rotated between the four demonstrations.

Trees, grass and caterpillars: demonstrations

Tree Work and overhead power lines

Demonstrator: Carl Powell, Ground Control, Billericay, Essex.

Carl demonstrated tree climbing and the safe use of mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPS) together with tree surgery techniques. The importance of training and equipment maintenance was also emphasized.

Working at Height

Demonstrator: Jim Tongue,

Vice Chairman, South Cumbria & North Lancashire IOSH District.

Jim demonstrated the potential hazards of using step ladders and mobile access equipment for high hedge maintenance. He emphasised the need to ensure that any equipment used to facilitate working at height was stable.

Jim also reminded the delegates of the dangers of over-reaching during tasks that involved the use of mechanical tools when working at height.

Mowing on Slopes

Demonstrator: Alistair McRobert, Rickerby, Penrith

Alistair demonstrated how to use a ride on mower safely, including the safe use of remote access equipment while cutting grass on steep slopes.

delegates were told that contractors say that many of their clients consider grass cutting to be a simple operation – just an extension of cutting the lawn at home. This contradicts recent HSE statistics – there are two fatalities, two major accidents and six over five day injuries, per annum, resulting from the use of ride-on mowers at work.

Pesticide spraying and safe use of ATVs

Demonstrator: Philip Hurst, Lloyds, Penrith & Neil Huck, Ground Control

Philip took delegates through the requirements of the spraying testing scheme (NSTS). He noted that systems of work for the use and application of pesticides and herbicides are often inadequate.

Neil explained the importance of having safe systems of work for using ATVs especially when spraying pesticides and herbicides.

We would like to thank everyone who helped to make this a worthwhile and enjoyable event.

Special thanks are due to all the following:

Alan Plom, IOSH Rural Industries Group – who had so many useful contacts.

Andrew Turner, HSE’s Forestry, Arboriculture and Agriculture Machinery Team.

Ground Control, Billericay Essex – for providing speakers, demonstrators and equipment.

Lloyds, Penrith – for providing demonstrators and equipment

Rickerby, Penrith – for providing demonstrators and equipment

Arboricultural Association – for supporting this event

Jim Tongue, Vice Chairman, South Cumbria & North Lancashire IOSH District – for stepping in at short notice to do the working at height demonstration.

Geoff Price, Chairman, South Cumbria & North Lancashire IOSH District & Treasurer SCOHSG – for inspiring this event.

Newton Rigg College – for hosting the event

IOSH, Leicester – for administering this event

South Cumbria & North Lancashire IOSH District and SCOHSG hope that the 20 students from Newton Rigg College, who we sponsored, enjoyed their day too.

Trees, grass and caterpillars