28th August 2018
Golf Course forced to pay £150,000 after manager killed in chainsaw accident
Hinckley Golf Club has received a significant fine after one of its management staff was killed when using a chainsaw. Although the employee was working in an unsafe manner, which contributed to the outcome, the club was found guilty of three charges under the Health & Safety at Work Act. He carried out the work alone at night, and without a safety helmet.
They were fined £75,000 and ordered to pay a further £75,000 in costs. Douglas Johnstone, 56 was believed to be using the chainsaw to remove a heavy branch which had broken off a poplar tree during a storm and was lying precariously across some smaller trees. He suffered a fatal brain injury when the branch fell and his body was found by a colleague the next morning.
The club believed – based on information provided in his employment application – that he was qualified to use the chainsaw. However, his employment references were not followed up to ensure that the qualification was valid.
They were found guilty of three Health & Safety failings:
- Failing to carry out a proper risk assessment
- Failing to implement a safe system of work for the management of trees
- Failing to train its workers in the use of equipment, namely chainsaws, between January and December 2013
The club was largely run by volunteers and the court examined the financial state of the club before sentencing. The case highlights a number of important points:
- Organisations run by volunteers still have the same Health & Safety obligations as those run by employees.
- Employers sometimes need to act to protect enthusiastic employees from themselves.
- When an employee claims to have a specific skill or competency, the employer should not rely on that information without specifically verifying it. Especially when that skill has such significant Health & Safety implications.