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Friday, 1 October 2021

New Month Old Post: Hedge Trimmer Safety, 1968

(first posted 20th September 2016)

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

If you want the kids to cut the hedge and mow the lawn, get them some dangerous power tools and they’ll do it happily while you’re at work. On no account stay home to watch or they won’t do it. Or if they do, they’ll make it look so risky you’ll have to do it yourself. 

Black & Decker D470 U-272 Hedge Trimmer

My brother and I fell for it. We moved to a house with a six-foot high hedge all along the side. We had to cut both sides because it was next to a field. Dad came home with two seriously businesslike items of 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, and 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 picture the terrible accidents and injuries that might occur. The manufacturers really do think you are an idiot. They say you should never use the equipment 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 ensure they have covered everything, including themselves, they tell you never to use the trimmer for any purpose other than for cutting shrubs and hedges. They seem unwilling to specify what these other purposes might be in case you take it as a recommendation. “Do not use the trimmer for shearing sheep,” they could 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.

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, magnetically disrupt their heart pacemaker and drop down dead? Did someone else, in their business suit straight from the office, catch up their necktie and die through strangulation? Could you really chop up your pet cat hiding at the other side of the hedge? And did some simpleton, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, imagine their hedge trimmer as a light sabre, and prance down the garden like Obi-Wan Kenobi to be electrocuted when the power cord tightened around their ankle and tripped them into the fish pond? 

Black & Decker D470 U-272 Hedge Trimmer

So, just how many of these safety features 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, save for blade extensions and a few warnings. 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, and it will keep going even when you put it down. One-handed is actually useful: you can reach further without having to move your step-ladder.

Black & Decker D470 U-272 Hedge Trimmer

When you switch off it takes two or three seconds to stop. That 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 caught the end of his finger in the blade and had to phone Mum at work because he thought he might need to go to hospital, which he did. He had cut about a third of the way into the side of his nail and only noticed when his arm began to feel wet. 

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, but why buy a new one when it is still good? Modern ones are so feeble they need replacing within ten years. This one has already lasted over fifty.

In any case, hedge trimmers are only the third most frequent cause of garden injuries requiring hospital treatment. Far more people are hurt by lawn mowers and even by plant pots.

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

44 comments:

  1. I wondered why you needed ear thing instructions way back then, so enlarged the photo to read more about it. A couple of times over the line I read earthing, then had to realize it's grounding instructions.

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    1. Earthing and grounding - another UK/US difference it seems. It's only much more recently they've warned about ear protectors. In 1968 nobody thought about them.

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  2. Old-fashioned manual hedge clippers would be a lot safer (albeit slower).

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    1. I've got some of those too, and they're hard work on any significant amount of hedge. They don't do much for you wrists and elbows.

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  3. We had one of those old ones. Lasted two days before my husband cut through the live wire. He never touched it again. Or any other garden implement. He thought it was too dangerous!

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    1. Two days is pretty good going. I've cut the cord too, but joined it back together properly. My excuse is that I can't see it because it's red, and red and green often look the same to me. It hasn't put me off though.

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  4. We bought one in about 1989 and I don't remember warnings. It too was a Black & Decker. It became essential as we had huge amounts of ivy, creeping ficus, bougainvillea and potato creeper to trim. No accidents but I think it may have had more blade guards than the sound of yours. To the trimming we had to do with hand hedge clippers would have been almost impossible.

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    1. They do make things a lot easier. I do wear thick gloves and try to concentrate on what I'm doing. What happened to my brother really did bring home the danger. If it had cut any deeper he could have lost the end of his finger.

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  5. A work colleague using a strimmer in long grass strimmed his dog's leg off. I have been terrified of strimmers ever since.

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    1. That truly has made me grimace. I have a small strimmer but with a plastic flail which I think is a bit safer. However, I stopped using it a long time ago because the flail blades only last about 10 minutes because they break off leaving tiny bits of plastic all over the garden.

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  6. Thanks Tasker. My head is now filled with some pretty gruesome images.

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    1. Apologies. Rachel (above but don't read it) has got me back for you.

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  7. I have never had hedges because of fear of the use of a trimmer. But I still hanker after a proper kitchen mandoline.

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    1. My mother caught her finger in the rollers when we had one of those in the fifties. I think I'm glad of the invention of the spin dryer.

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    2. He's talking about something different! I'm cracking up st using a mandoline, a hyoer sharp vegetable cutter, for the laundry. Unless you were fed up of operating the mangle!

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    3. Ah - those! We've got one and I cringe every time Mrs. D. uses it. And I cringe every time I have to wash it up.

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    4. At least it wasn't thought of as a sort of banjo.
      (BTW I'm an old lady or should I have to say woman?)

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    5. You'd need a very strong plectrum.

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  8. Saying 'Do not use to cut hair' is a bit like saying, 'Do not use a hot-air paint-stripper to dry your hair'. Amazingly, people have actually done just that.

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    1. Instant baldness. I'm sure some read these things and think "Oooh that's a good idea". I can imagine your job provides all kinds of opportunities for idiot behaviour.

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  9. That was an excellent laugh and really brightened the day over here. You could take that post onto the stage if you were at all inclined to take on some stand-up comedy.

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    1. It's a tale told many times over many years. I've just realise it would be good put some foliage behind Obi. It was a pain putting the trimmer in place of his light sabre and getting his hands and the teeth of the trimmer right, but it looks as if it should be relatively easy to put a hedge behind him.

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  10. Virtually the same model as we had and a very similar tale of finger cutting as befell your brother. Only it was one of my teenage sons who came in the door with his previously white, now red, t-shirt wrapped around his hand. He hadn't panicked and was fairly non-nonchalant about it. I quickly unwrapped and surveyed the damage: he'd managed to vertically cut through the middle of his pinky finger exposing all the insides (won't give gruesome details). DH fainted. I left him on the floor. Stopped the bleeding with clean towels and drove son to the emergency room for repair work. So, yes, never one of my favorite tools. But it does cut a damn fine hedge. :)

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    1. Another gruesome tale - sounds much worse than my brother who did a clean cut. I wasn't at home but I was told he phoned Mum so calmly and she nearly panicked. Have you still got your cutter? Mine's quite heavy so you get your exercise using it anyway, plus all the bending and sweeping and picking up the cuttings.

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  11. I love that appliances from the old days seem to last forever compared to new appliances that have very short lives. Tools like hedge trimmers should come with warnings but they are sometimes overdone. The last time I bought a hair dryer (certainly no dangerous tool) it came with warnings like "do not use while asleep" and "do not use in the shower"!

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    1. They do. Kettles used to last at least 10 years as opposed to 3 if you're lucky now. It really is a solid piece of engineering. All metal except for the plastic handle.
      I've read about packets of nuts that warn they contain nuts.

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  12. I agree that we have arrived at a situation where there are so many warnings that no on reads them (except when writing blog posts) however! And it's a big HOWEVER. It absolves them of the legal liability of fools and the blame culture. Most people have heard of the lady (American) who sued because she put her chihuahua (dreadful word to spell) in a microwave to dry it and cooked it. There was nothing to say she shouldn't. The UK is now following in the footsteps of the Americans. Common sense is daed.

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    1. What particularly annoys me is that these warnings also now come in multiple languages. The instruction booklets are now all electronic, but they give you a thick printed booklet full of warnings in twenty or thirty different languages. Enormous long labels on clothing are related to this.

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  13. My father was an engineer, and carefully studied the instructions for every piece of machinery, gadget, household and kitchen appliance.
    I doubt if he ever saw a hedge trimmer except in a movie.

    On our garden hedge he used manual shears, and even then he told we boys to stand well back. I can still smell the oil on the shears and leaf cuttings.

    Your sentence made me stand well back:
    *When you switch off it takes two or three seconds to stop.*
    It doesn't bear thinking about your brother's near loss of fingers.

    I remember my father reading a news item from the paper, his voice sad.
    A man electrocuted himself while repairing his wife's hair dryer.
    Where did he go wrong? I asked.
    *Poor guy,* he said, *he did not have a meter.*

    The current that killed him was still there inside the hair dryer.
    Father always used an electric meter if a gadget of my mother's failed.
    Haggerty

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    1. Some devices have capacitors that retain a strong charge. Cathode ray televisions were one such device. I always used to be extremely careful when I took the back of a tv to connect my tape recorder input to the speaker wires.

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    2. I have never heard of such a thing, connecting the tape recorder to the television wires. I can hear you whistle as you work.

      My father worked in an engineering college (before that in factories like Rolls Royce) and the lecturers in Electrical Engineering were friends of his. They repaired televisions.

      I enjoyed going to see him at work.
      The college was like a living toolbox in the sky.
      There were full-time students (ophthalmics: a four-year course for opticians) and men on day release and at night classes.

      The college has been converted to become a school of fine art.
      My father would have been sanguine about this, but some of his colleagues had a lower view of aesthetics.
      Haggerty

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    3. Radios and TVs didn't have output sockets then, but you could get a signal from the speaker wires to avoid the background sounds you would be likely to get with a microphone.

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  14. Well done on the Obi photo!

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    1. It needs a bit of overgrown foliage in the background, but it's a start.

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  15. Good grief, Tasker, this post had me cringing. My small hedge cutter requires two hands before it will swing into action.

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    1. My favourite phrase is about them being designed to cut through twigs the thickness of your fingers.

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  16. Black and Decker must have created the D470 (U-272) Hedge Trimmer before they realised, like many other manufacturers of electrical goods, that there was a great deal of money to be made from built-in obsolescence.

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    1. They wouldn't get much repeat custom from products with more than a 50 year lifespan. There is something wrong with the world.

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  17. Uaaahhh -- shudder, shudder --- that is tough stuff, Tasker! I cannot look at a bread slicing machine without shuddering...
    Of course in my garden I used a hedge cutter too - :-) though not a Black
    & Decker

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    1. Actually, I'm quite frightened of scissors.

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  18. Ear protection is certainly thought of today and that's a good thing. We've terribly screechy trains running through the Bay Area where I live and I see some passengers wearing ear protection for their own safety.

    I recall our school custodians missing digits or more of a finger and I always assumed it was from using somewhat dangerous tools (because then there were hardly any safety features on them to think of).

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    1. When I was growing up there was a butcher with a missing finger. He did it exactly as you might imagine.

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  19. We have multiple chain saws. Tim buys the old ones when he sees them because they last. I don't know how many chain saws he will consider to be enough, but all I know is that when he sees a burley bearded fellow with an electric chain saw lopping at wrist sized branches with his electric chain saw he laughs and laughs. He seems to think that the saw would not be up to the challenge of taking down the dead white pines by the garden.

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    1. A chain saw is possibly the only power tool I wouldn't want. A few years ago I read about a man using one up a ladder while his wife held the ladder. He lost grip of the chainsaw and it fell and took his wife's head off. I'm not kidding.

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