A recent Health & Safety Executive prosecution will have a significant impact on grounds maintenance after an operative was injured mowing a 64 degs slope, an expert has warned.
BALI technical director Neil Huck said the case, in which a groundsman suffered four fractured ribs and bruising while working for Cirencester Town Council, will have ramifications across the sector.
The council was fined a total of £29,000 after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act on 4 August. The court heard that the ride-on mower he used was not suitable on slopes of more than 25 degs.
Due to long grass and because he was not using an inclinometer, the operative was not fully aware of the slope's angle. The local authority was criticised for inadequate training and failing to carry out an adequate risk assessment.
Huck, who is also national training manager for Ground Control, said companies and councils will be under more pressure to provide inclinometers and to spend more on appropriate equipment. Hand strimming can be a safer option, he added, but takes longer. BALI is organising a workshop to test bank mowers later this year.
"It's going to have quite an impact in the industry," said Huck. "The council shouldn't have had the machine on these banks - they are too steep. Ground Control gets asked to cut very steep banks. That's why we have invested £500,000 in remote-control mowers over the past few years."
Horticulture Week technical editor Sally Drury said the right kit is available for this kind of work (see box). But she stressed that a proper assessment and execution of the job is just as important - and a legal requirement.
"I see guys going out all the time mowing without thinking and also going very fast. You should never mow a slope when it's wet and you should always mow as if you are walking on snow or ice."
Suitable equipment - Safe mowing on slopes
Remote-control machines such as Loxston's Hybot can cost as little as £17,500. Ride-on mowers that can safely operate on slopes include the Reform Metrac range and the self-levelling Etesia Attila 180, which the manufacturer maintains is safe on slopes of up to 50 degs.
The Baroness Hammer Knife 1560, with a standing operator platform, is also self-levelling and the manufacturer says it is safe on slopes of up to 35 degs.
Alternatively, a tractor with a long-reach flail arm such as the TWIGA Orbital from Spearhead is designed for steep banks.