Google Analytics

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Hedge Trimmer Safety 1968

The Black & Decker D470 (U-272) Hedge Trimmer

If you want the kids to cut the hedge and mow the lawn for you, get them some dangerous power tools and they’ll happily do it while you’re at work. On no account should you stay home to watch over them or they won’t do it. Or if they do, you will be so frightened by the risks that you’ll have to do it yourself.

Black & Decker D470 U-272 Hedge Trimmer

My brother and I certainly fell for it. It started in 1968. The previous December we had moved to a house with a wide lawn and a six-foot hedge along the side. The hedge ran the full length of the front and back gardens – around a hundred feet – and we had to cut both sides because it was next to a field. My dad came home with two seriously businesslike items of gardening equipment: an Atco petrol mower and a Black & Decker electric hedge trimmer with a sixteen-inch blade. The mower, to which I owe a useful understanding of engines, particularly the operation of the clutch, is long gone, but the hedge trimmer is in my shed. It still works, and I still use it.

Electric hedge trimmers are brutal pieces of equipment. They cause more than three thousand injuries in the U.K. every year, mainly lacerated fingers and electric shock. After all, they are designed to cut through twigs the thickness of your fingers. Today they boast numerous safety features. They have two switches to ensure you keep both hands on the machine at all times. The blades stop the instant either switch is released. They have blade extensions: fixed teeth which extend beyond the cutting blades so you cannot hurt yourself by accidentally brushing the trimmer against your leg. They have cable protection such as coiling and a belt clip to stop you cutting through it. They have guards to protect your hands from flying or falling debris.

Not only that, they also come with pages of warnings against the ill-advised actions of idiot users. They tell you to wear heavy duty gloves, non-slip shoes and suitable clothing, not to wear a scarf or neck tie, and to tie up long hair. They suggest eye and ear protection, but to be aware that ear protection impedes your ability to hear warnings. They advise against using the trimmer in damp weather, and to watch out for roots and other obstacles you might fall over. And you should always use an RCD (GFCI) circuit breaker.

Your imagination starts to work overtime as you recognise the wisdom in these warnings and begin to picture the terrible accidents and injuries that could occur if you ignore them. But the manufacturers don’t just leave things there; they really do think you are an idiot. You should never use the equipment, they caution, while tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You must not permit bystanders, especially children and animals. You should not cut where you cannot see, and should always first check the other side of the hedge you are trimming. Never hold the trimmer with one hand, they say, hinting that those who do might henceforth be left with only one hand to hold it with. And to be sure they have covered absolutely everything, including themselves, they tell you never to use the trimmer for any purpose other than for cutting shrubs and hedges. It appears they are unable to envisage what these other purposes might be or they would surely mention them. “Do not use the trimmer for shearing sheep,” they might say, “or for grooming your poodle.”

Some manufacturers even include warnings about vibration-induced circulatory problems (“white finger disease”), and provide advice specifically for those whose heart pacemakers might be affected by the magnetic fields around the motor. And all of this is before they get on to things that might go wrong with petrol driven trimmers and their toxic exhaust fumes and inflammable fuel, which I suppose would have applied to the motor mower my brother and I used to enjoy unsupervised.

Black & Decker D470 U-272 Hedge Trimmer

The warnings seem so comprehensive they must be based on real accidents and incidents that have occurred over the years since home power tools emerged in the nineteen-sixties. Did someone, somewhere, really magnetically disrupt their heart pacemaker and fall down dead? Did someone else, still in their business suit straight from the office, catch up their necktie and die through strangulation? Could you really (like Philip Larkin and the hedgehog) chop up your pet cat hiding at the other side of the hedge? And did some simpleton under the influence of drugs or alcohol once imagine their hedge trimmer to be a light sabre and prance down the garden wielding it in front of them like Obi-Wan Kenobi, only to be tripped into the fish pond and electrocuted by the power lead tightening around their ankles.

Black & Decker D470 U-272 Hedge Trimmer

So, just how many of these safety features and warnings do you think are designed into the 1968 Black & Decker D470 (or U-272 in the United States) electric hedge trimmer? Practically none of course. I concede it does have blade extensions, that the nameplate warns it should not be used in rain and that the accompanying instructions suggest it is not a good idea to cut through the power cable, but that’s about it. The manufacturers thought it more important to tell you about its power, speed and ruggedness, and the sharpness of the tempered spring steel blade. There is nothing to prevent you from using it one-handed or indeed no-handed – it will keep going even when you put it down. One-handed is actually an advantage: you can reach further without having to move your step-ladder.

When you do switch it off it does not stop instantly: it takes a couple of seconds to slow down. This is why my brother did have an accident. At home on his own one summer afternoon aged about fifteen he helpfully thought he would trim the hedge. He had to phone Mum at the shop where she worked to ask her to come back because he thought he might need to go to hospital. He had caught the end of his finger in the blade, cutting about a third of the way into the side of his nail. He didn’t notice until his arm felt wet. There was quite a lot of blood.

Maybe I shouldn’t use it, but I do. It may be so old as not even to get a mention on the Black & Decker web site, and the wiring colours are perilously obsolete, but why buy a new one when it is still good? Modern ones are so shoddily made they are likely to need replacing within ten years, but this one has already lasted almost fifty.

In any case, hedge trimmers are only the third most frequent cause of gardening injuries requiring hospital treatment. Far more people are hurt by lawn mowers. And hedge trimmers cause nowhere near as many injuries as plant pots.

Black & Decker D470 U-272 Hedge Trimmer
Instruction sheet for the Black & Decker D460 and D470 (U-272 or 8120) hedge trimmers

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome comments and usually respond the same day.