Health & Safety Guides

Choosing your kit: Tractor-mounted equipment for cutting hedges

Health & Safety Guides: Grounds Maintenance / Activity 01: Hedge & Shrub Maintenance / Part 01: Tractor-Mounted Equipment

Razorback Auto-Level 550: 5.5m reach for all verge-mowing and hedge-cutting tasks - image: Mzuri

This section aims to guide the reader through the factors that should be considered when selecting tractor-mounted equipment for cutting hedges.

To help comply with duties under health and safety law, it is important to ensure all relevant regulations are understood and followed, especially Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (1999 in Northern Ireland), which deals with duties relating to the provision and use of work equipment and requires that equipment should be properly selected and maintained and used by trained people, normally those who have been on a relevant course.

Machinery must be built to conform to British Standards and carry UKCA conformity marking or, until 31 December 2021 in Great Britain, a CE mark. In Northern Ireland, CE marking will continue to be accepted under the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol. Equipment must only be used for the purpose for which it has been designed. Factory-installed safety features must not be bypassed or modified. Written maintenance records must be kept.

Where there are many hundreds of metres of hedgerow to be cut, the tractor-mounted hedge cutter – comprising a hydraulically-controlled reach arm or boom with hydraulically-driven or belt-driven cutting-head attachment – is a good option. The most popular type of cutting head used for hedge maintenance is the flail head, but reciprocating cutter bar heads are often used on ornamental hedges. Rotary heads with swinging blades, knives or chains are also used for trimming work. Saw heads fitted with circular-saw-type blades can be used for the vertical cutting back of hedges and bushes where conditions are particularly woody. Various options are available in terms of reach arm geometry and the mounting position on the tractor, primary mover or base vehicle – hereafter referred to as the “tractor”.

Consider the experience available and the need for operator training. Tractor-mounted hedge cutters must only be used by trained operators. Remember, training and experience are needed in the operation of both the reach arm with cutting-head attachment and the tractor. If experience is lacking, ask your local rural studies or land-based college and/or dealer about relevant training courses.

Consider the tractor to be used. Stability is paramount. For stability and safety reasons, the reach arm with cutting head must be carefully matched to the tractor. Consider the tractor’s weight, lift capacity and power. Never attempt to put a big reach arm and cutting head onto a small tractor because damage can be caused to the tractor but, even worse, the tractor will be at increased risk of tipping over with potentially fatal consequences. Consult the reach arm manufacturer for details of minimum tractor requirements.

Consider the work volume. How often will the equipment be used? It could affect the amount of spend that can be justified. If there is only infrequent work to be done, it may be easier to call in a contractor, but it may also be worth assessing the opportunities for additional work on neighbouring estates or to extend the work activity to include verge mowing. Only flail heads, fitted with suitable flails, and some rotary heads can be used for grass cutting.

Consider operator comfort. If you intend to use the machine for long periods of time, choose a system that is operator-friendly. In such cases it will be worth looking at mid-mounted or front-mounted reach arms or units with specialist geometry that places the cutting head alongside the tractor cab. This will help reduce neck cranking caused by constantly twisting to view the cutting head out of the rear window, but the suitability of the tractor must be taken into account. Controls should also be comfortable to use.

Consider the site. It may be necessary to reach up banks or across ditches and fences to cut the hedge. These types of obstacles determine the arm geometry and reach required. Various types of reach arm or armset are available in addition to the standard format. Parallel geometry ensures consistent height of cut can be maintained regardless of reach adjustment. It requires a single control input and improves over-fence clearance. Telescopic reach arms are ideal for confined working environments because they have excellent manoeuvrability and precise arm extension. The cranked or forward-reach armset positions the cutting head where it can easily be seen from the tractor cab, so improving visibility and comfort and also reducing fatigue. Manoeuvrability is also enhanced, making this format particularly good for cutting around obstacles. Again, it is important to consider the size and weight of the tractor because this may limit the reach that is safely possible.

Consider the hedge. The type of hedge and the finish required will determine the most suitable type of cutting head. A flail head will do a good job on farm, rural and general hedges such as hawthorn. For ornamental hedges, a reciprocating cutter bar head gives an excellent finish. Rotary heads with swinging blades, knives or chains are also good for trimming woody hedges. Where extremely overgrown hedges have not been cut for a long time and comprise thick woody branches, it may be necessary to consider a saw head. These are best for cutting through thick branches in excess of 80mm and up to 280mm in diameter. But remember, only reach arms with flail heads fitted with grass flails, along with some models of rotary head, have the potential to lend themselves to the additional task of verge mowing.

Consider attachments. Check out the manufacturers’ catalogues and think about whether it would be useful to have other attachments to fit the reach arm or boom. Other work and business opportunities may arise if different types of cutting head and equipment, such as ditch-cleaning kits, are available.

Consider the warranty, dealer support and availability of replacement parts. Look at how easy it is to make adjustments and replace wearable parts such as flails. Investigate the service intervals, maintenance requirements and costs, and consider whether maintenance can be undertaken and defects remedied in-house. Make sure replacement parts are readily available. Always check the length, details and conditions of the warranty.

Next, turn to the relevant section where you will find information including regulations, planning the work, risk assessments, pre-start checks, safe use and maintenance for the following types of tractor-mounted hedge-cutting equipment:

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This content is intended as general reference material only. Please do not rely on this information but refer to your usual health and safety information sources and follow the relevant procedures for you.