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rrac takes action (on trees) July 19, 2008

Posted by Bradley in : Uncategorized , trackback

In April, I noted that the RRAC, formed in January, did not seem to have done all that much. While I wasn’t watching they did publish a press release asking for common sense about tree inspection standards (noted here in the FT). It seems that the British Standards Institute has produced a draft standard on tree inspections (currently available on registration via the BSI’s Draft Review System (and here)(comments due by the end of this month). The Chair of the RRAC, Rick Haythornthwaite, is quoted in the press release as saying:

The plans for trees are an example of the dangerous bureaucratic spiral which can be caused by the complex interactions of different groups. Those who fear they might be held liable in the event of some incident look for compliance standards to remove legal uncertainties. Then there are “risk entrepreneurs” among treecare professionals who thrive on maximising the perception of risk in order to create standards for which they are perfectly placed to provide profitable solutions. Public and media opinion will often tend to agree that ‘something must be done’ in light of one or more tragic events. The result can too easily be new regulations introduced without a balanced assessment of the true level of risk against the possible wider damage which can be done by heavy-handed regulation.

I’m not sure why the BSI thought a standard for tree inspections was a good idea. And this standard seems to mix up a number of issues – it’s not, for example just about what an arboriculturalist should do in carrying out a tree inspection for the purposes of satisfying contractual obligations. The draft standard also addresses the question of when a property owner should carry out inspections (although not with much clarity or certainty). However, some of the RRAC’s concern seems to me to be overstated. The draft standard states clearly that compliance with its provisions would not confer legal immunity (thus likely limiting its usefulness), and it also states:

The inherent risks associated with trees mean that it is a mistake to manage them in an overly risk-averse manner. In addition to considerations of tree safety, it is important that management decisions are taken in light of their wider benefits (aesthetic, ecological, environmental and sociological). Management decisions to address identified hazards that exceed what is necessary to the detriment of these benefits are inappropriate.

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