Birmingham Anglers Association (BAA) has been fined £66,000, with costs of £17,500, following the death of a volunteer. Maurice Taylor, 71, suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a falling tree branch in October 2019. He had been helping to clear vegetation with other BAA volunteers along the river Avon at Pensham, Worcestershire.
An investigation by Worcestershire Regulatory Services, which works on behalf of the six district councils in the county, found the group of volunteers had received no formal health and safety instruction, had not been properly trained for the kind of work they were carrying out and were using inadequate equipment.
At a hearing at Worcester Magistrates’ Court, BAA admitted breaching the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Section 3(1). It was discovered that no documented risk assessment had been carried out, against the BAA’s own policy. In addition, guidance from the Angling Trust had been ignored and a proper exclusion zone around the felling site of at least five metres had not been set up.
The judge added that BAA’s health and safety procedures were out of date and volunteers were not properly trained or they would have realised they were ill-equipped for the task they were carrying out. However, in summing up, the judge noted that BAA had suspended volunteer work and advertised for a paid fisheries officer.
Following the judgement, BAA general secretary John Williams said: “The case has been a salutary lesson and shows that there can be no compromise when it comes to matters of health and safety.”
Nick Fowler, MCIEH, senior technical officer at Worcestershire Regulatory Services, said the challenges encountered during the investigation included determining the status of the volunteers and enforcement responsibility (given initial uncertainty in establishing the main activity, peripatetic activity and land ownership).
He told EHN: “This case was unusual because it involved a fatality and also a group of volunteers who were working in support of a fishing association. We also had to ensure we had the correct jurisdiction for any formal action taken. We didn't want the question of acting ultra vires raised that might compromise the investigation, mindful also of the family of the deceased and their expectations.
“The volunteers were part of a fishery group, which would ordinarily fall to the local authority for enforcement as a recreational leisure activity. But they were also peripatetic workers on what was ostensibly farmland, undertaking a degree of forestry work using a chainsaw. There was, therefore, a question as to whether it was our remit or HSE’s for enforcement action.”
Following a review with the HSE, it was agreed that despite where the volunteers were and what they were doing, ultimately they were a group affiliated to a recreational leisure activity.
Fowler added: “It was striking that in the summing up, the judge said that where you have volunteer workers, no organisation should feel it can just rely upon their goodwill in the absence of proper training and procedures and paid officers or external contractors to undertake potentially dangerous activities.”