- by Bob
String trimmers or weed whackers as we tend to call them, are powered hand tools that can be dangerous when used improperly. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, string trimmers are the cause of injury for 4,600 people per year. These figures are from 1989, so it is safe to say that these figures have likely swelled in the last 2 decades despite enhanced safety features.
Eye injuries are the most common and account for one-third of all injures reported.
The main factors relating to injury include:
- Loss of concentration
- Inadequate training
- Inadequate safety equipment
- Using while intoxicated
Not wearing adequate safety equipment is a major issue because string trimmers often hit objects throwing them into the air, hitting the user. Proper clothing and eye wear are often enough to protect the user against such injuries and should always we worn irrespective of how experienced a user or how flat and seemingly benign the terrain your are cutting is.
General Safety Precautions and Rules
There are general safety guidelines that must be followed to ensure injuries are kept to a minimum. Many of these guidelines you already know, but may not practice with the utmost care. Remember, it’s the smallest safety precautions that often go overlooked and lead to injury.
Start With the Operating Manual
Every string trimmer is different. You will want to start by first reading the operating manual. Most models are operated in the same manner, but general safety guidelines that are specific to your trimmer will be discussed.
Bystanders Should Be Away from the Trimmer
Even if you wear all of the appropriate safety gear, most bystanders will not be wearing the right gear to keep them safe while you’re trimming. This means children, other adults and even pets should be at least 50 feet away from you while trimming.
Wear Protective Clothing and Gear
The right clothing and protective gear can thwart the vast majority of injuries. The following items should be worn to ensure your safety when operating a string trimmer:
- Clothing: Long-sleeved shirts and pants are recommended. These will eliminate many cuts and bruises that may occur while trimming.
- Shoes: Boots or sneakers should be worn. Sandals and any open-toed footwear should be avoided.
- Eye Protection: Over a third of all injuries that are caused by string trimmers are eye-related. Eye protection should always be worn when using power hand tools.
- Ear Protection: Ear injuries are less common, but they can occur. Ear protection should be worn. This will not only protect the ears from physical damage, but it will also make using a loud string trimmer more comfortable.
- Gloves: A pair of rubber gloves or any form of thick gloves will be able to protect the hands from injuries. Make sure that the gloves allow your hands to function freely, so you can maintain a tight grip on your string trimmer. Leather gloves will also provide optimal protection while allowing for the utmost in dexterity during usage.
These small precautions will lead to a lower risk of injury and should be followed with any power tool you may be using.
Maintenance and Inspection
Inspecting the area where you’ll be trimming is always recommended. This will allow you to ensure that many of the rocks, sticks and other debris that are often the cause for injury are removed from the area. A little preparation will eliminate much of the risk taken when string trimming.
Inspecting your trimmer for wear and tear before each use is recommended. A small crack in a unit can lead to a major injury in the future.
Always maintain your string trimmer to the specifications set by the manufacturer. This means replacing any parts or performing any maintenance necessary throughout your ownership.
Note: Fueling guidelines must be followed at all times.
Many models will require premixing of fuel to specific specifications. Always premix with the utmost care and never use any fuel that is not recommended. If fuel spills, clean it up promptly and always ensure that the fuel cap is attached to the unit before starting.
Electric models or battery-powered models do not require fuel, but their power source should also be inspected. Corded models should be inspected for any splitting in the wire or damage that may cause fire or injury. Battery-powered models should have the battery inspected every month or so to ensure that it is not leaking or damaged.
Inspection should also include:
- Looking for loose fasteners.
- Inspecting for fuel leaks.
- Inspecting for cracks
- Inspecting for damage to the string head
All damaged parts should be replaced, and all loose parts should be tightened.
Proper Usage Guidelines
Basic usage guidelines should be followed. This include:
- Never leave the string trimmer running while unattended.
- Never wear loose clothing while operating.
- Long hair should be above the shoulders during operation.
- Trimmers should be kept below waist level during usage.
- Electric trimmers should not be used in wet conditions.
- Trimmers should only be used for grass and weeds.
- Inspect the area for exposed utility lines before trimming.
- Never inspect or repair a unit while it is running.
- Jewelry that can be caught in the trimmer should be removed.
- Start the unit while it is on the ground; not in the air.
- Inspect and tighten any loose safety shields or guards.
- Never remove safety shields or guards.
- Cut away from yourself not towards yourself.
- Follow trimmer line guidelines. Line that is too thick may cause the motor to operate at a higher speed, causing the unit to break or wear prematurely.
- Never refuel a trimmer while the unit is hot. Wait at least 5 – 10 minutes before refueling.
- Trimmers that require fuel need to be stored properly and not kept in hot, enclosed areas that may cause combustion. The owner’s manual will include proper storage techniques for your string trimmer.
- Do not walk sideways or backwards with the unit to avoid slips and falls that may lead to further injury from a trimmer that is currently on.
- Keep all units away from children, and out of reach of children or animals.
Weed whackers are safe when operated under the right conditions. By following the safety tips outlined, you will minimize the risk of injury and ensure that you have done everything in your power to avoid injury when trimming.