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Golf club fined for safety failings after fatal accident

Published Friday, 27 July 2018

A GOLF CLUB has been fined £75,000 after it was found guilty of three health and safety breaches that led to a golf course manager being fatally injured by a falling branch.

Mr Douglas Johnstone, 56, suffered a fatal brain injury while working at Hinckley Golf Club in December 2013.

A jury at Leicester Crown Court delivered a unanimous verdict in May 2018, finding Hinckley Golf Club Limited guilty of three health and safety breaches which contributed to Mr Johnstone`s death.

Sentencing was adjourned until today (27 July 2018) while financial reports were prepared.

Leicester Crown Court was told that Mr Johnstone was believed to have been using a chainsaw to clear a heavy branch that had broken away from the main trunk and was lying in an unstable position across a number of smaller trees. He died alone at the scene and his body was discovered by a colleague the following morning, 28 December 2013.

The court heard that a Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council’s Environmental Health Service officer, who investigated the accident, discovered that Mr Johnstone was not qualified to use a chainsaw, that he was working alone at night at the time of the accident and that he was not wearing a safety helmet. Officers were also concerned that the golf club had insufficient and inadequate risk assessments and safe working systems in place for its employees at the time of the accident.

Hinckley Golf Club, which is a limited company, entered not guilty pleas to three health and safety charges under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 of failing to:

  1. Ensure the health and safety of employees regarding a safe system of work in place for the management of trees
  2. Provide a sufficient risk assessment
  3. Provide adequate training in equipment, namely chainsaws, between January and December 2013

However, the jury delivered unanimous guilty verdicts on all three counts after seven hours of deliberation and the club has been ordered to pay a fine of £75,000 and an additional £75,000 in costs.

Executive Member for Environmental Services at Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, Councillor Kevin Morrell, said: “Our thoughts at this time go out to the family, friends and colleagues of Douglas Johnstone who tragically lost his life in December 2013.

''This case serves as a reminder to any organisation run by volunteers that they have the same health and safety responsibilities to their employees as any other business. We will always work with businesses and organisations to help them improve and maintain standards, but as this case demonstrates, we will not hesitate to take action against those who put their employees and others at risk.

''Employees are entitled to be safe at work whoever they work for and the protection and safety of all employees should be paramount to every employer, no matter their position in the organisation’s hierarchy.”