Calibra Tree Surgeons in Reading have been fined£7,000 and ordered to pay £5,973 in costs due to a serious breach in health and safety that led to the loss of a teenager’s toes.
As reported by the Health and Safety Executive, Connor Harfield, at the time aged 16, lost all of his toes and the majority of the ball of his right foot during the third week of his first job at the tree surgery company.
Now aged 18, Harfield has been left permanently impaired by the incident, and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.
Reading Magistrates’ Court heard that the teen was working to reduce shrubbery and stubs for the company using a mobile wood chipper. As he was feeding the wood into the machine, he inserted his right foot within the shoot to speed up the flow.
His shoe then snagged on the feed rollers and his foot was pulled within the blades.
An investigation by HSE found that the chipper was badly maintained and was missing a vital safety switch. They also established that the first-time worker was not properly supervised or trained, and should not have been allowed to work in such conditions.
Calibra were aware of the safety defect as they had ordered a new safety valve for the machine, and they pleaded guilty to the court on single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
HSE inspector Daniel Hilbourne said: “No responsible company would keep equipment with defective safety measures in use, especially a piece of equipment like a wood chipper that is known to be dangerous because of the very nature of what it does.
“Neither would a responsible company leave a young, inexperienced worker to his own devices around such machinery without adequate training and supervision.
“Yet that is precisely what Calibra Tree Surgeons allowed, and a teenager has been left with permanent impairment and psychological scarring as a result.
“It is well known that young people in the workplace are often less risk averse, and they need to be closely and carefully monitored when using machinery.
“It is also imperative that machinery is well maintained and is pre-checked before use. Had that happened here, this serious incident could have been prevented.”