Can you help with risk assessment for grass trimmers?

Sally Drury explains how to identify - and reduce - some of risks associated with grass trimming.

A: You need to consider the machine you are using along with the environment and conditions at the time. One of the biggest risks when trimming with a nylon-line trimmer or brushcutter will come from flying debris. Lurking in the grass there can be all manner of hazards - litter and general debris, perhaps bottles and beer cans, maybe even discarded syringes and, as awful as the thought is, curled up hedgehogs and other petrified creatures.

A walk of the area will reveal some of the hidden objects so they can be cleared before trimming commences. If you are trimming around obstacles after grass cutters have done their duty, it may not be necessary to walk the site but keep a watch when working.

In long, dense grass the hazard from flying debris - including irritants and sharps - will be classed as high to the operator and to third parties such as passing public and property.

Risk to operator is reduced by wearing the correct personal protective equipment (PPE): helmet with ear defenders and full-face visor, steel-toecapped boots and overalls or brushcutter trousers and jacket. Where members of public are present, or when working close to property, the risk to them can be reduced by setting a no-trim zone - perhaps of three metres. Cease trimming when people are in the vicinity.

Consider the risks posed by the terrain and ground conditions. Wet conditions and steep slopes are two hazardous conditions for brushcutter or trimmer operation. What might be deemed a medium risk may be reduced by the operator wearing steel-toecapped boots that have slip-resistant soles.

Trimmers and brushcutters can cause lacerations, even amputation, and other injuries because their moving parts are designed and intended to cut. Wear the correct PPE and ensure the machine is maintained properly, fit for work (that goes for the operator too) and correctly assembled and ready for use. Do your pre-start checks.

Protection from noise is important, so wear your ear defenders, and stick to permissible work periods with regard to vibration levels. There is also a medium risk of burns associated with any engine-driven equipment. Again training and the correct use of PPE are required. The other risk to the operator is back pain. If operating the machine all day, the risk is high and it is important that harnesses are correctly adjusted, and that operators adopt good posture while working and adhere to break times.


Work site: flying debris is a hazard to operator, third parties and property. It is a high risk and requires use of PPE and no-mow zones or the cessation of cutting while people pass. The risk of losing grip will depend on terrain and ground conditions. Wear non-slip footwear.

Trimmer or brushcutter: cuts or amputations can be caused by moving parts, burns by the hot bits. The risk is medium. Ensure properly maintained equipment is used by fully trained operators wearing the correct PPE.

Noise and vibration will vary from model to model and may be medium to high risk. Use ear defenders and adhere to permissible work period.

Operators: there is a high risk of back problems so stand correctly, adjust the harness to fit and stick to break times.

- Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 27 years and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.

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