Hedge cutting on farms: staying safe and avoiding costly damage

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Each year Cornish Mutual handles a number of insurance claims relating to incidents involving tractor-mounted rotary flail hedge cutters.

UK farmers are prevented by EU law from trimming hedges between 1st March and 1st September, to protect nesting birds.  This makes hedge cutting a priority for many landowners in February and throughout the autumn.

Whether you are a farmer or a contractor brought in to carry out the work, there are a number of considerations to ensure this seasonal job is completed safely while reducing the risk of expensive mistakes.

Protect hedge cutting equipment

All equipment that is used to trim hedges should be safe, with guards in place, and in good condition. Anyone operating the machinery must be properly trained and competent.

The most common claims we see at Cornish Mutual relating to this area of work are the result of blades being broken after hitting rocks jutting out from hedges. These incidents can lead to catastrophic damage to equipment, causing contractors to not only be faced with expensive repair costs, but the prospect of being unable to work during the short hedge cutting season while they wait for machinery to be repaired or blades to be replaced.

Because rocks are often hidden, some of these incidents are unavoidable. However, carrying out some preparatory work to assess the boundary structure could mitigate against costly damage to machinery and a serious financial hit to the business.

Look out for power lines

Each year there are a number of incidents involving farmers or contractors slicing through BT cables with machinery blades. These mistakes can be extremely costly with those involved potentially facing bills of more than £5,000 to cover the repairs carried out by telecommunications companies.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warns against trimming hedges that are directly below live overhead power lines. However, BT cables can sometimes also be hidden within the hedge boundary itself.  

Prior to work commencing, contact an appropriate telecommunication company that can conduct free investigations to identify and mark-up any areas that might house cables, to help prevent accidents.

Keep motorists and pedestrians safe

When contractors or farmers trim roadside hedges they also need to consider public safety. Being aware of what is going on around you while you are carrying out the work will help manage the risk of debris flying out and hitting vehicles or pedestrians.  Any branches that land in the road should be removed immediately to avoid causing accidents or damage to passing cars.

Contact your local authority highways department for advice on what measures you should take to protect road users, as the rules vary across the UK. These requirements could include restricting working hours and displaying signs to warn drivers and pedestrians. While fitting flashing beacons to warn oncoming drivers is not mandatory, it is recommended as a way of reducing the risk of accidents.

Managing boundary hedges is important to prevent vegetation from encroaching on fields and overhanging public rights of way. However, as with many tasks in and around the farm, careful planning of work in advance and taking a few simple steps could significantly reduce the risk of accidents and expensive damage.

Arthur Denton, Claims Team Leader