Duty of Care – Hazardous Trees

The owner and / or occupier under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 has a duty of care. This means that they are generally liable for any loss or damage resulting from falling branches or from the falling tree itself. It should be noted that whilst the incidence of accidents is low, falling branches and trees have resulted in deaths and caused serious road accidents.

Whilst there is no single source of statistical information relating to the number of instances when people are struck by falling branches or trees, what we do know from the indications is that the number of instances is low. However, there have been a small number of serious incidents and such events usually attract a high level of media attention.

It is very important that anyone with responsibility for land with trees on them puts in place a procedure to identify and manage the risk. If there is any doubt regarding the legal status or ownership of land containing trees landowners are strongly advised to clarify the situation as a matter of urgency. In the meantime, it would be sensible to assume ownership and responsibility and take action as necessary in order to minimise future liabilities.

Liability of Tree Owners

Occupiers and anyone with responsibility for trees i.e. a tenant must take reasonable steps to manage and reduce the risk which includes having their trees inspected regularly in order identify any trees which may cause injury or place property at risk. When hazardous trees are identified suitable remedial action must be taken in order to reduce the risks.

In addition to existing statutory requirements Courts expect owners in charge of places to which the public has access, such as parks, hotels, shopping centres, golf courses, and gardens to take greater care than those in control of more remote woodland. The courts also expect occupiers to be prepared for children to behave less carefully than adults and thus consideration must be given to whether children might suffer injury from climbing trees which may have weak or damaged branches. It is therefore essential that schools, nurseries etc have their trees inspected on an annual basis to ensure that their trees are safe.

In order to manage your duty of care Stan Timmins and Sons can implement regular tree inspections regimes to ensure that the risks are identified and then controlled appropriately. The risks may be controlled by cordoning of areas and moving the public away from the area, removing dangerous branches or through the removal of dangerous trees.

Inspections and Risk Assessments

It is essential that a planned inspection programme is established which ensures that trees are inspected as often as is necessary. Here at Stan Timmins and Sons Ltd we tailor our inspection programme to each individual clients needs. This is based upon our analysis of the initial tree inspection, the type of property or organisation involved and their level of public access.

The inspections will only be carried out by one of our highly qualified and suitably experienced arborists and will also involve us giving the client a thorough report highlighting any issues which we may have identified during the inspection.

The initial visual tree assessment from ground level may indicate that we need to carry out a more detailed examination of the tree which may involve an aerial inspection of the tree.

We would recommend:

  • Frequency of inspection be related to the condition of the tree, the probability of failure and the level of threat posed should the tree or branch fail.
  • Annual inspections where there is a high level of public access or where children are using the site on a regular if not daily basis.
  • Additional inspections following storms or severe weather events.

Stan Timmins and Sons base their recommendations for work and risks assessments using the following:

  • Location of the tree(s) in relation to people, property and adjacent thoroughfares. For instance a tree which is dead and located within a school playground should be removed immediately whilst a dead tree in the middle of a wood where no one visits can be left for nature.
  • The age and condition of the tree(s).
  • Species – some trees are better able to withstand decay for instance an Oak tree can live for many thousands of years whilst a poplar tree only has a very short lifespan and is more prone to failure.
  • Nature and type of any damage, decay or fungal attack present on the tree.

It is worth considering whether your trees are located in high risk locations for instance are they on woodland which contains paths and recreational areas which are used on a daily / regular basis, are the trees adjacent to a highway or other busy thoroughfare. If the trees are located in a high risk location then you owe the general public a higher level of care than if the trees were located in a remote area where there is little public access.

Risk Control Methods

There are several control methods which can be used to reduce the risk:

  • Modify usage of the site by re-routing paths and walkways or moving car parks or recreational facilities.
  • Tree surgery i.e. pruning off dangerous branches or reducing the end weight of heavy limbs which may be posing a risk to site users.
  • Bracing or propping of the tree.
  • Felling of the tree(s).

However the most appropriate control method will depend upon a number of factors regarding both the tree i.e. is it a historical tree, is it a commemorative tree, as well as who planted it as well as the sites usage etc. If the tree is no of great value then felling may be the suitable option, however if on the other hand it is of great value i.e. a specimen tree, one of historical significance or part of a wildlife habitat then re-routing of adjacent footpaths and other structures may be the most suitable approach.

It is worth noting that it is possible to reduce the development of hazardous situations through preventive measures such as the staking of young trees and formative pruning of young trees to avoid hazardous situations later in their life such as weak unions and crotches. When trees have not been formatively pruned in their early years hazardous situations may arise later on in their life cycle.


It is worth noting that under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act1974 that all occupiers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of those not in their employment. “Occupier” is generally taken to mean any person occupying or having control of premises, in this case land with trees on it.

There are clear responsibilities to assess risks that arise from trees and take suitable and sufficient steps to control such risks.

In addition, occupiers have duties under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 which states the occupier owes a “common law duty of care” to visitors and those who enter his or her land or premises and the duty of care extends to trespassers.

Key actions and Steps

If you are in charge of land which contains trees then you should:

  • Contact Stan Timmins and Sons Ltd either by calling us on 07966 207280 / 0191 406 5386 or emailing [email protected]
  • We will work with you to carry out an initial inspection of all your trees and identify those which present the greatest risks.
  • Take any remedial actions to rectify the situation
  • Set up a regular programme of inspections to ensure your tree stock is safe for site users.

Refer to us with confidence

We are proud members of Checked & Vetted, where our customers can leave verified reviews of our work. Please see below a selection of recent testimonials and our current approval score. (Dec 2017).

Cleared trees and shrubs from garden.
Liam and Stan did a great job removing many overgrown trees and shrubs from the garden. They worked extremely hard and efficiently, giving good advice based on detailed knowledge of the trees. They cleared up thoroughly and they were friendly and courteous. I was very pleased with the work.

Customer in Whitley Bay

Tree felling.
The lads were extremely professional, friendly and helpful. We’re very impressed with the work done (It was awkward for them, as the tree was growing over a fence). Just as impressive was how tidy the place was afterwards. Recommended.

Customer in Westerhope

Halved two very large conifers. Hired through Checked and Vetted.
Liam came to give estimate, made arrangements to do the work. Text the night before with a time and they arrived at that time. Very pleasant, polite lads. They did the work without a fuss, cleared all the off-cuts and cleared up. I would recommend them to anyone , thank you.

Customer in Newcastle upon Tyne

Remove two conifers and grind down tree stumps.
In a word – efficient. From the prompt response to my initial enquiry, through the arranged site viewing to conifer removal I have found this company efficient and professional. All debris was removed completely and the tree stumps ground down to a very good depth, so that replanting this border can happen immediately. I would recommend this company.

Customer in Cramlington

Removal of approx 30 ft tree.
On Liam’s first visit to quote for the work, he gave us good advice and we could tell we were going to get a professional job. Arrived on time and did the work in the wet in a fairly tight space, with a shed close by. Cleared up and even did an extra small job not included in the original quote. Would definitely recommend.

Customer in Alnwick
Visit our Checked & Vetted Page