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Safety of trees on school premises and playing fields

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Noor Shameel


A recent prosecution by the HSE has highlighted the importance of ensuring those responsible for school premises have effective systems in place to manage trees on their sites, particularly those in areas frequently accessed by pupils, staff, and the public. Newcastle City Council was fined £280,000 after the death of a six-year-old girl, hit by a falling tree in her school playground (Council fined £280,000 after death of 6-year-old girl hit by falling tree). An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the tree had decayed and was in a poor condition. The Council was found to have failed to identify the extent of the decay or to manage the risk posed by the tree.


What do schools need to do?

Schools should consider the risks presented by any trees that they are responsible for, and ensure a competent person identifies and prioritises trees accordingly, using a zoning system. For example, trees in areas likely to be frequently accessed by pupils, staff or visitors should be allocated to zone 1 with trees in less frequently accessed areas placed in zone 2.  A competent person should undertake inspections of trees to identify any defects such as disease or structural integrity. Inspections can range from a light touch visual inspection to a more detailed formal inspection by a specialist. The type of inspection required will vary based upon the tree’s location (i.e. which zone it is in) and any prior indication of structural instability or disease. Where defects have been identified by a competent person, but a decision is made to preserve any tree that presents a risk, a tree management plan should be put in place and regularly reviewed as required, for example if the tree’s condition worsens because of damage, disease or adverse weather.


What is a ‘competent person’?

Competent persons are those with the relevant training, skills, experience and knowledge to enable them to suitably and sufficiently assess the risks posed by damaged or decaying trees. Training courses are available concerning identification of tree defects from providers such as the Arboricultural Association who offer Basic, Intermediate and Professional Tree Inspection training. Where defects are revealed that are outside the competence of the person carrying the checks, a system should be in place for obtaining specialist assistance and/or remedial action.


Further information: Management of the risk from falling trees or branches

See also: Common sense risk management of trees – landowner summary (

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