Each year, there are a number of accidents – often including fatalities – involving hedge cutters, while there are no records for how many near miss incidents take place. Using hedge cutters is a risky job because these machines create many dangers that could potentially result in serious injury to the operator or others on or near the tractor or machine.

Farmers and contractors using rotary flail hedge cutters need to be aware of the potential dangers. They must make sure that anyone working with them knows and follows safe working practices to prevent accidents and serious injuries.

What are the dangers?

Injuries to the operator and others during hedge-cutting can be caused by being hit by debris from the hedge or being hit by parts of the machine flying off. Because of the nature of the work, there is also the danger of connecting with fence wire or more seriously overhead electric power lines.

During setup or machine adjustment and servicing, there is the additional danger of being trapped between the machine and the tractor, especially when hitching or unhitching.

Hedge cutters operate with an extending arm and there is also the danger of the tractor overbalancing when the machine arm is fully extended on uneven ground.

These machines are hydraulically powered and there are additional dangers of the injection of high-pressure oil from damaged hydraulic hoses or couplings. Finally, if you are working on public roads to trim farm hedges, you need to be aware of the risk of road traffic accidents due to collisions or debris on the road.

Hedge cutters need skilful operators. It is essential that the operator reads, understands and follows the machine instruction handbook before use – not after the problems arise.

Never use a new machine until you have familiarised yourself with it and spent some time practicing with the controls in a safe area. Once working, if you need to get off the tractor for any reason, firstly lower the cutting heads to a safe position, apply the tractor handbrake and put the machine controls in neutral.

It is essential to never operate the tractor controls from any position other than the driving seat, especially when hitching or unhitching the machine.

Never carry out machine maintenance with the tractor engine running. Do not carry out maintenance on the hedge cutter with the cutting arm raised, unless the arm is properly supported.

When you are finished and back in the yard, make sure the machine is parked in a stable position once it is removed from the tractor. Use the stands or props provided and make sure that it is secure and won’t fall.

Keep the machine safe

Before you start to work, you need to be sure that the tractor is at least the minimum weight recommended by the hedge cutter manufacturer. It may be necessary to use offside wheel weights or other ballast to keep the tractor stable.

No matter how little hedge-cutting that you do, you need to make sure that the tractor rear and side(s) are fitted with protective glazing or metal mesh guards to protect the operator against thrown debris or machine parts. You need to ensure that all of the hedge cutter guards and safety devices are in position and correctly fitted.

You should use the flails and their fixings that are of the type recommended by the manufacturer. Regularly check that they are securely attached and that none of the flails are missing or damaged. The flails and their fixing heads must be the right size for the task; light flails will be dangerous for heavy cutting applications.

You need to make sure that the hydraulic pipes are carefully routed to avoid damage to them. This damage can lead to burst high-pressure hydraulic pipes that can result in painful and damaging oil injection injuries.

Key points

  • Never leave children on or near the tractor or machine.
  • Injuries can be caused by debris thrown from the hedge or by being hit by part of the machine.
  • Overhead power lines are another serious danger.
  • Never carry out machine maintenance with the engine running.
  • Consider investing

    If the hedge cutter has not been used for some time and requires a significant investment to make it effective and safe, now may be the time to consider other options. Farmers need to use this opportunity to consider theor options, which may include parking the machine and hiring in another. Whoever does the work, quality and skill are important. Take time to get the machine in top condition; a clean cut is good for the hedge and also easier on the tractor and hedge cutter. These are potentially dangerous machines, so take time to get them into top condition, keep safety at the forefront of your mind and try to develop a culture where even near misses are not acceptable.