Court orders golf club to pay £150,000 over greenkeeper death

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 1, 2018 07:50

Golf clubs are being encouraged to check health and safety claims of their staff with previous employers after a Leicestershire club was ordered to pay £150k following the death of its course manager.

The golf club in question accepted the course manager’s incorrect assertion that he was chainsaw-trained, and did not check this with his previous employers. Sadly, it was while carrying out chainsaw work that he died.

A councillor who was involved in the prosecution said that organisations run by volunteers, such as private members’ golf clubs “have the same health and safety responsibilities to their employees as any other business”.

According to The Hinckley Times, Leicester Crown Court fined Hinckley Golf Club about £75,000 for breaches of health and safety law. The club also has to cover court costs, which ran into thousands of pounds.

As we reported in 2013, Douglas Johnstone died after being hit on the head by a tree branch. He was working late at the golf club clearing a fallen tree from the green when the accident happened.

In 2015 a jury recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Greenkeeper killed by falling branch

Mr Johnstone, known as Dougie, was working alone and using a chainsaw without wearing a helmet. The falling branch inflicted a fatal brain injury.

“Sentencing, Judge Martin Hurst said the accident happened against a background of a systemic failure to deal with health and safety at the club,” reports the paper.

“He said the club had since taken substantial steps to voluntarily improve its health and safety arrangements, adding: ‘The other side of the coin is that the steps now taken demonstrate the woeful state of health and safety before’.

“During an 11-day trial, the jury was told Mr Johnstone was not qualified to use the motorised saw, although club officials believed he was, according to his job application. He had exaggerated his credentials.

“The court heard Mr Johnstone was carrying out the chainsaw work unaccompanied, after other ground workers had gone home for the day, as darkness closed in.

“The 56-year-old died alone and his body was found beside the tree, near the 14th hole, the following morning, on December 28, 2013.

“The jury took seven-and-a-half hours of deliberations to find the golf club guilty of three health and safety offences, between January and December 2013.

“The judge said during sentencing he agreed Hinckley Golf Club was a “highly regarded local institution”, with no previous health and safety convictions.

“He accepted a submission from defence counsel James Maxwell-Scott QC that any financial penalties should not affect the future existence of the 18-hole club.

“He criticised it for not making calls to confirm Mr Johnstone’s qualifications and experience with his two previous employers at Wentworth and Pinner golf courses.

“During the trial, Timothy Raggatt QC, prosecuting for Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, said: ‘There’s no suggestion anyone wanted or anticipated the death would happen’.

“Mr Raggatt said if it was Mr Johnstone’s decision to work alone and without safety equipment, there were obligations of employers to protect employees, even against themselves.

“The defence argued the club took reasonable health and safety steps, although club officials had accepted, on face value, Mr Johnstone’s incorrect assertion he was chainsaw-trained.

“Councillor Kevin Morrell, executive member for environmental services at Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, said after the sentencing: ‘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.

“’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’.”

Hinckley Golf Club issued a statement on behalf of the chairman Barry Ayre.

It said: “We express our regret at the death of Mr Johnstone, and, of course, our sympathies go out to his family and friends.

“We accept the sentence of the judge and are now looking to move forward from this tragedy.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 1, 2018 07:50
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