Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
Rule 11

I, Robert Pearce, Coroner, having investigated a death of

John Charles Sherriff



(a) The deceased person is John Charles Sherriff born 8 November 1943.

(b) Mr Sherriff died age 67 on 25 April 2011 at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

(c) Mr Sherriff was a married person.

(d) The cause of Mr Sherriff’s death was a severe closed head injury caused by being struck by a falling tree on 7 April 2011.

(e) No other person contributed to Mr Sherriff’s death.

Background and Circumstances:

1. John Charles Sherriff, age 67, lived on a farming property at West Kentish with his two sons Heath Sherriff and Neil Sherriff.  Mr Sherriff also owned other farming property including at 34 Tylers Road, Sheffield.

2. On 7 April 2011 Mr Sherriff was working with Heath and Neil to clear a row of trees that were shading a paddock at Tylers Road.  The trees were being pushed over with the bucket at the front of a hired 25 tonne excavator being operated by Heath.  Once pushed over Mr Sherriff would remove the stumps with his bulldozer.  The trees were being pushed downhill in a general northerly direction.  At about 3pm Mr Sherriff and Neil were standing about 20 metres from a tree while Heath was pushing it with the excavator.  After commencing to fall the tree rotated as if hinged and fell towards Mr Sherriff and Neil.  Neil was able to move away but Mr Sherriff was not. That may partly have been because his mobility was restricted by an ankle injury suffered late in 2010.

3. As it fell a 40mm diameter limb of the tree struck Mr Sherriff on the head.  He suffered a severe head injury.  He was taken by ambulance to the Launceston General Hospital and then to the Royal Hobart Hospital intensive care unit.  After a few days he was admitted to the neurosurgical unit but he died on 25 April 2011.

4. A post mortem examination disclosed multiple skull fractures and a hypoxic brain injury.

Comments & Recommendations

5. I have decided not to hold an inquest into Mr Sherriff’s death because the investigation has sufficiently disclosed his identity, the time, place, cause of his death, the relevant circumstances concerning his death and the particulars needed to register the death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act.  The facts do not justify a finding that any other person contributed to Mr Sherriff’s death.  I do not consider that the holding of an inquest would elicit any information further to that disclosed by the investigation already conducted.

6. It is appropriate however that I make some comment.  The method and practices adopted by Mr Sherriff and his sons to fell the trees were not safe.  The investigation disclosed that the fallen tree was 28 metres long.  It is proper practice that attending persons be a safe distance from the tree when it is pushed – at least twice the height of the tree.  Account must be taken of the possibility that the tree may fall in an unintended direction.  Mr Sherriff was standing far too close.  Mr Sherriff was not wearing any sort of protective clothing, particularly a safety helmet.

7. The risk was contributed to by the method of pushing that was used.  According to Workplace Standards Tasmania the use of a bucket attachment to push trees is a common but poor work practice.  The front of the excavator bucket gives little control of the direction of the falling tree.  The excavator had no purpose built tree pusher attachment.  Other safer attachments or methods are available.  Operators should be appropriately trained and experienced.

8. Those engaged in farming and other agricultural activities are often involved in dangerous work.  The extent of the danger is often not fully appreciated.  Death and injury is all too common.  Farms are over represented in work place related deaths in Australia and Tasmania is over represented nationally.  I would recommend that government and industry bodies work co-operatively to educate about and increase awareness of farm safety.  Some work is already being done.  More is to be encouraged.

I convey my sincere condolences to Mr Sherriff’s family.

DATED : 2012 at Launceston in the State of Tasmania.

Robert Pearce