Tree Safety legislation ‘duty of care’

Anyone who owns, rents or ‘occupies‘ land has a legal ‘duty of care’ to take ‘reasonable steps‘ to ensure that the trees on their land are in a safe condition.

  • Under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957/1984, anyone who owns, rents or ‘occupies’ land has a legal ‘duty of care’ to take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure that the trees on their land are in a safe condition and do not place people or property at risk.
  • In addition, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires organisations to ensure that trees under their care do not cause foreseeable damage to their employees or the public.

Tree Safety – Best Practice

Best practice guidance from the Government (HSE), National Tree Safety Group and Arboricultural Association advises that “trees subject to frequent public access – those that are closely approached by many people every day are regularly inspected and that records be maintained of all such surveys”. Should an accident occur, the ‘occupier‘ may be sued for negligence unless they can produce evidence of regular tree safety inspections and maintenance.

Any person(s) commissioning tree work has a responsibility to assess, as far as is reasonable, the competency and
proficiency of any self-employed individual (contractor) to work safely. Factors that should be considered as part of this
assessment may include but are not limited to:

a) the contractor’s ability and arrangements that are in place to manage the work, including the identification
of competent and proficient individuals, along with details of the supervision that will be in place;
b) the level of proficiency of individuals involved in the task commensurate with the risk and complexity
of the work;
c) the health, safety and environmental performance of the contractor;
d) health, safety, environmental and quality processes in place, which are demonstrably effective;
e) accreditations demonstrating independent assessment of competence;
f) the contractor’s ability to effectively manage, supervise and communicate with any individual(s) involved
with the work;
g) arrangements in place to maintain the health, safety and welfare of any party during the completion of works,
including the provision of equipment;
h) work procedures, method statements and/or good practice to be followed/adhered to during work activities.


Everyone involved in the planning, management, supervision and carrying out of arboricultural works must engage in an
effective chain of communication. An effective communication strategy within a business, project or work site will detail
reporting lines between the task originator, e.g. employer, and those required to undertake the task.
Effective communication in an operational context must be determined and agreed prior to the start of any work activity
and remain effective throughout. Factors influencing the effectiveness of this communication may include:
a) knowing who to speak to, e.g. the responsible and/or competent person, proficient operator, or property
b) the type of communication system being used on site (verbal, hand signals, radio, telephone) and external
factors that may influence its effectiveness (noise, weather, visual interference, dense canopy);
c) the level of understanding and correct interpretation of the on-site communication method, e.g. hand signals,
language barriers and/or learning impairment.
Industry Code of Practice for Arboriculture: Tree Work at Height – Principles and Guidance
Roles and Responsibilities
12 ICoP for Arboriculture: Tree Work at Height (Edition 1, February 2015)


It must be ensured that there is always adequate and competent supervision for any arboricultural operation. The level of
supervision should be commensurate with the complexity of the task in hand, as well as the experience and proficiency of
the operatives on site.
Any individual acting in a supervisory capacity should as a minimum have:
a) a comprehensive understanding of the arboricultural techniques appropriate to the particular work site and an
understanding of the limitations of those techniques;
b) responsibility for hazard identification and risk assessment for arboricultural operations;
c) the capability to apply, agree and enforce safe systems of work on site;
d) the capability and authorisation to stop work when necessary;
e) the ability to set and lead by example;
f) effective communication and interpersonal skills;
g) the ability to make sound judgements and to act in an authoritative, decisive and measured manner
when required.

Method statements

A method statement may be used to formally define and record the system of work. This will normally be prepared by the
competent person.
The format of the method statement may vary according to the recipients’ requirements. However, it will generally contain
the following principal considerations:
a) scope, location and timing of the works to be undertaken, to include reference to job specifications;
b) a sequence of procedures necessary for the safe implementation of the task;
c) the control measures that are being or have been introduced to ensure the safety of anyone who is
affected by the task or process;
d) reference to good practice guidance to be included where applicable;
e) specification, type and number of machines, personnel and equipment to be used;
f) reference to applicable certification and documentation relating to personnel and machinery;
g) provision for emergencies, to include first aid on site;
h) safety-critical communication processes during operations, i.e. safety hold points for the exchange of
safety-critical information, such as site safety induction, permits to work and re-evaluation of operational risk
over the life the project.
i) Measures to address any environmental impacts on the worksite.

Auditing and inspection

To ensure that safe systems of work for tree work at height are complied with, the responsible person must ensure that
the work planning system and process, from the initial pre-work assessment to job completion, is audited.
Auditing reviews the process of planning, implementation and completion; it is informed by an inspection of the various
key elements of the work planning process. Auditing will consider the whole process or system and may be partly or wholly
historical. Inspections are point-in-time assessments of a specific aspect of the system or process.
A tree work planning audit may consider the following criteria:

a) tree work specification;
b) assessment of work method;
c) assigning resources:
– time
– labour
– competency
– equipment;
d) pre-work risk assessment and control;
e) site-specific (point-of-work) risk assessment and controls;
f) compliance;
g) completion to specified standard.
Work site inspections provide key point-in-time assessments of compliance with aspects of tree work and should be
undertaken regularly to inform, amongst other things, the wider audit process.
Work site inspections may include the following criteria:
a) competency of operatives on site;
b) resource provision;
c) condition and use of tools and equipment;
d) demonstration of task competency;
e) work site planning and control;
f) task planning and control;
g) compliance with risk controls and emergency procedures;
h) environmental factors;
i) work quality.
Work site inspections and tree work planning audits provide important opportunities to improve on standards of
compliance with the criteria and promote a positive safety culture. They should be undertaken on a regular basis.
Audits and inspections should be documented, with clear criteria set for the auditor/inspector to assess against. Noncompliance with agreed processes and systems should be dealt with by clear action points which are assigned to individual
personnel and are time limited.