Is it illegal to spray weeds using a handlance from a quad-bike on a footpath?

A: Would you use a mobile phone while driving on the motorway? Weed control from an ATV or small vehicle driven on the footpath has always been a controversial topic but last month the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) issued a statement outlining best practice. It is a reminder that it is neither safe nor acceptable to spray using a handlance on an ATV, mini-tractor or other vehicle while it is moving or in gear.

The guidance emphasises the need to ensure that the application method selected is safe, legal and appropriate for the area where herbicide application is taking place. The HSE statement declares that "employers of spraying contractors and operators have a duty of care to those who may be affected by their application of pesticides". It goes on to say "drivers/operators should not hold a spraying lance while riding on such a vehicle as two hands are generally needed for safe control." It also states that "the use of hand-held pesticide application equipment by the driver of a moving vehicle is not appropriate and does not represent good practice". Handlances may be attached to or carried on vehicles but should only be used when the vehicle is stationary and not in gear."

The statement has been welcomed by the industry. Herbicide and equipment supplier Nomix Enviro managing director Mark Phillips says: "As an industry, we can no longer defend the indefensible. Using handlances to spray from a moving vehicle is dangerous. The HSE statement clarifies this and will ensure a higher lever of safety for the public and the environment, as this unsafe practice is stopped."

Roundup manufacturer Monsanto also applauds the clarification. Technology, development and stewardship manager Manda Sansom says: "We welcome HSE's clarification. On hard surfaces, glyphosate should only be applied as a spot treatment. This is virtually impossible to achieve with standard boom sprayers on vehicles, which blanket spray and can lead to run-off and water pollution."

Nomix suggests amenity managers comply with the guidelines and achieve best practice by using the company's low-volume applicators. Operators can easily spot treat weeds on footpaths and around obstacles, with virtually no spray drift or run-off, ensuring less risk of damage to the surrounding environment and avoiding water pollution. So best foot forward.


UPDATE: 17/5/11 - Spraying from a vehicle

Amenity Forum chairman Profession John Moverley states the organisation's position on spraying from a moving vehicle (HW, 6 May).

"While we certainly support safe practice, the issues here are not fully straightforward and there are a number of factors to take into account. At the last meeting of the forum, prior to issue of the guidance referred to in your item, the item was on our agenda and discussed.

"It was agreed that the forum would consult fully with its membership and look to produce a policy statement that could be agreed. It is a pity that we could not influence the timing of the guidance because we would have preferred to come to a forum conclusion first to share with those involved.

"The position then is that of course all our members are committed to safe practice and proper guidance but that we will be producing a sector policy response shortly once our consultation is complete. Members and organisations can make their views known but it was felt important to make clear Amenity Forum policy."

Sally Drury has been reporting on product developments and testing kit for 28 years. The advice given in this helpline is independent.

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