Tasmanian Coroner finds tree felling deaths 'completely avoidable'

FINDINGS: Coroner Simon Cooper has released his recommendations after investigating chainsaw-related deaths.
FINDINGS: Coroner Simon Cooper has released his recommendations after investigating chainsaw-related deaths.

A Tasmanian coroner has issued a warning about chainsaw safety after investigating six deaths in three years.

Coroner Simon Cooper handed down his findings into the deaths of Brian Dransfield, Lawrence Alan Howard, Tobias Joseph Hyland, Kenneth Hudson Mitchell, Kenneth David Spanney and Dylan Broderick Ernest Young on Friday. All six died while felling trees.

Mr Cooper highlighted a lack of formal training, no safety gear and poor tree felling techniques as “common factors” in each man’s death.

Mr Hyland died “almost instantaneously” in 2015 when he was struck on the head by a falling limb at Diamond Tier in the Central Highlands. He was with his father at the time who tried to resuscitate him, but Mr Hyland died at the scene.

“It is noted … that neither were wearing any personal protective equipment and in particular Mr Toby Hyland did not have a helmet on,” Mr Cooper said.

Mr Howard was felling a tree on his block at Forthside when he was fatally hit in 2013. He was found dead under the tree by his son-in-law. 

“It is clear, and I find, that the lack of training and the poor techniques adopted by Mr Howard regrettably caused the accident which led to his death. His death was entirely avoidable,” Mr Cooper said.

Mr Young was killed “almost instantly” after he was hit by a falling limb at Somerset in March, 2016. His death was found to be the result of “traumatic brain injury”

Mr Spanney died after a large log rolled on top of him at Hastings in Southern Tasmania in 2014. His body was found some time after his death and Mr Cooper concluded “there is no doubt that the observations at the scene make it quite clear that the cause of the accident leading to Mr Spanney’s death was unsafe chainsaw handling techniques”.

Mr Mitchell was a Kentish Council worker at the time of his death and was an experienced woodcutter. In 2013, he was felling a tree when it struck him. While Mr Mitchell was trained, Mr Cooper said “I am satisfied he made several crucial and ultimately fatal errors which directly led to his death”. 

Mr Dransfield died in 2014 after a tree fell on him at Dromedary. He was still conscious after the tree fell and was able to call triple-zero. After emergency crews arrived he went into cardiac arrest and eventually died at the scene.

“Each death was completely avoidable,” Mr Cooper said. 

“It is important to ensure, to the extent possible, that lessons are learned from each death the subject of investigation so as to prevent, also to the extent possible, people making the same basic and deadly mistakes in the future.”