You are responsible for a hotel in beautiful grounds with a number of trees. Bearing in mind the tragedies this year where children have been killed by falling trees, how do you manage them, and what are your responsibilities?
The Occupier's Liability Act 1957 (OLA) places a duty of care on the occupier of premises to ensure that visitors are reasonably safe in using the premises for appropriate purposes.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) also places a duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure that employees and visitors aren't exposed to risks to their health or safety.
Risk assessments and safety policies are now a routine part of working life. The only way for a hotel to demonstrate a prudent approach regarding trees is to inspect them routinely and act on any findings. This needn't be an onerous task.
First, know where the trees are. Plot all trees on a plan.
Set up a regular cycle of checking. Although tree inspections are best done by professionals, a lot can be picked up by a non-technical assessment.
Look at the trees which have the greatest potential to do harm first. Those closest to people, traffic or buildings will be the highest risks.
Check for recent changes that might have obvious implications for tree health or safety, such as excavations close to roots; physical damage (eg, fire, vehicle collisions); large lumps of dead wood; an increasing lean; fungus growing on the tree.
Don't forget to look at trees close to the boundary on adjacent land. These could affect you. If you spot a problem, write and explain that the trees are the tree owner's responsibility.
Keep records of every assessment. Photographs are helpful to refer back to. Over time, these records will build into a valuable resource that demonstrates a commitment to safety.
If an assessment raises any questions about a tree's health or safety, call in a tree specialist. A fuller inspection can then be carried out and appropriate action taken.
Refer obvious safety problems directly to a tree surgeon.
Do a quick assessment of the trees after a storm or other extreme event to pick up any resulting problems.
Ideally, all trees should be inspected by a professional on an annual basis. Then any problems can be identified promptly and dealt with in a programmed manner.
Remember to get written assessments of the trees every time. Not many tree surgeons will provide written inspections. Arboricultural consultants have the right experience and carry professional indemnity insurance.
Where trees are covered by a tree preservation order (TPO), or where a hotel is in a conservation area, the local planning authority has an interest in any work proposed. A TPO gives the local authority the power of veto over any work it doesn't agree with. Tree-work applications take about eight weeks. The local tree officer will visit to assess the application. Ask him questions and learn more about your trees.
With dead, dying or dangerous trees the procedure is much simpler as long as you let the planners know what's happening and make the situation safe.
The current climate of increasing litigation reinforces the need for all hotels to have a clear procedure for health and safety issues relating to trees. Offences under the HSWA could result in unlimited fines or prison where there is a serious accident. Offences under the OLA don't lead to criminal proceedings but will lead to claims for injury and damage, and businesses that can't demonstrate prudence will suffer.
A little thought now, and communication with local tree specialists can give peace of mind and enhance the benefits trees provide.
Ampfield House, Romsey, Hampshire SO51 9PA
Tel: 01794 368717
International Society of Arboriculture
148 Hydes Road, Wednesbury, West Midlands WS10 0DR
Tel: 0121-556 8302