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Over the last 3 years, the UK has seen it's fair share of snow and ice during the winter and there has been a huge rise in the sale of both Electric and Petrol Snow Blowers to combat this. These machines are hugely popular in America, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland and other parts of the world where snow is a usual occurrence if not permanent! But here in the UK there seems to be a general lack of knowledge about these machines which is a shame as they can be extremely effective at clearing snow, especially if the right machine is chosen and it is used at the right time (this may sound ridiculous but I'll explain more on this subject later!). In Part 1 of this Blog we'll cover the various designs, what to look for when choosing your Snow Blower, as well as which manufacturer to choose. In Part 2 we will cover how and when to use your chosen snow blower to obtain the best results......
A Snow Blower (often referred to as a Snow Thrower) is a machine for clearing snow from areas it is not wanted such as Drive Ways, Foot Paths and Walk Ways by Blowing or Throwing it to areas that do not need to be accessed. There is a vast array of size and type of Snow Blower for covering different areas and surfaces and they are generally powered by Petrol Engines however there are now some smaller models powered by an Electric Motor as well as larger models which are "PTO" (Power Take Off) versions that can be attached to a variety of vehicles from Lawn Tractors to ATV's and Agricultural Tractors. The design was first conceived in America as far back 1870 when Robert Carr Harris patented the "Railway Screw Snow Excavator" for clearing train lines. However it was not until 1925 when Arthur Sicard was credited as being the first inventor of the Practical Snow Blower for removing snow from roadways that the idea finally took off.
First we'll take at look at the 2 main variations of Snow Blower......
All Electric Snow Blowers and Entry Level Petrol Snow Blowers are Single Stage. This means that the Auger is solely responsible for pulling the snow in to the machine and throwing it out of the discharge chute. Due to this fact, the Auger of a Single Stage Snow Blower must revolve at a very high speed in order to do these two jobs in one action.
Single Stage Snow Blowers are for clearing light to moderate snow fall up to a maximum of approx 8 inches (20cm) that has not been compacted or frozen.
Most Single Stage Snow Blowers use a Rubberised Auger (see picture) which is designed to come into contact with the surface it is clearing, leaving only a very small amount of snow behind.
This makes them ideal for flat tarmac surfaces or well maintained block paving however, you must remember that uneven surfaces such as a loose paving stone's that have corners "Jutting Up" will result in an impact on the Auger causing premature wear and damage to its clearing edge and drive belt. These Rubberised Augers or Paddles and Drive Belts can be replaced once they have worn, so make sure you choose a brand of Snow Blower that is recognised in the UK and offers full spare parts availability. Single Stage Stiga and MTD Snow Blowers are highly recommended due to their build quality, performance and spare parts supply.
You will also find that nearly all Single Stage Snow Blowers are "Push" machines meaning that you must push the snow blower forwards or backwards with no assistance from the machine itself. Having said that, the way the Auger operates in pulling snow in to its mouth, it does also have the effect of dragging the machine forwards as it goes!
The larger Petrol Snow Blowers are classed as Two Stage or Dual Stage Snow Blowers. They use a much slower revolving Auger (which is the first stage) to cut through the snow and drag it in to the second stage which is an extremely fast moving Turbo Fan to eject the snow out of the discharge chute.
All Two Stage Snow Blowers use a Steel Auger with slotted teeth to cut through deep compacted snow falls up to approx 21 inches (53cm) depending on model.
Skid Shoes on either side of the Auger Housing provide you with an adjustable clearing height but unlike the rubberised auger of a single stage snow blower, these machines are NOT designed to come in to contact with the ground and will leave approx 1-2cm of snow remaining.
The auger should be adjusted to suit the surface, flat tarmac and well maintained block paving allows a low clearing height where badly maintained block paving and gravel surfaces require an elevated clearing height to avoid impact to the steel auger and the scraper bar located behind / below the auger.
In the event of an impact to the Auger, there are a series of Shear Pins or Shear Bolts that are designed to snap prior to any damage being transferred to the Transmission Unit that drives the Auger. These parts can all be replaced as long as you have chosen a recognised UK brand. We highly recommend Two Stage Stiga or MTD Snow Blowers for this purpose.
Two Stage snow blowers are nearly all "Power Driven" and depending on model you choose, can have single or variable forwards and reverse speeds making the job of clearing snow much less of a chore!
In Part 2 of our Snow Blower Blog we will cover General Use and Maintenance to help you get the best results from your chosen your Snow Blower.......
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For many years we have heard talk of "Vibration White Finger" which really came to light during the late 80's and early 90's when the UK Goverment had to set aside in excess of £100 million pounds for coalminers that suffered from the illness after operating drilling equipment for long periods of time. The modern term of HAVS (Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome) now covers this ailment and it would appear to be on the increase for professional garden and grounds maintenance opperatives.....
If you work with any petrol powered garden machinery from Lawn Mowers to Chainsaws, on a regular basis then you need to protect yourself. If you are self employed (as many are in this line of work), you need to know what the Vibration Data is for the machinery you are operating. If this information is not readily available or quite simply does not exist then its time to look for newer / better equipment that not only provides the vibration data but is designed to reduce the vibration levels as much as possible without effecting the performance or build quality. Secondly it is highly recommended to wear protection where and when ever possible. Anti-Vibration Gloves can work wonders in reducing the effects of vibrating machinery and should be used, especially on cold days.
If you employ staff that use petrol powered tools such as Hedge Trimmers or Brushcutters on a regular basis it is imperative that you purchase equipment based on the Vibration Data and keep copies of this information along with proof of purchase in a safe place. This will enable you to prove (where necessary) that you have complied with your "Duty of Care" as an employer by providing the best equipment possible for each of your employees and create a safe working environment. See the following link to the HSE's Guide to Vibration at Work.
Stihl are industry leaders in commercial 2-stroke equipment and have models which feature the best anti-vibration systems on the market to make sure operatives can work for longer with less stress. Click the logo above to see the vibration data for all Stihl products including chainsaws and hedge cutters.
You can also download the MS EXCEL Stihl Hand / Arm Vibration Calculator to work out safe expossure duration to certain vibration levels.
During October you could save yourself an extra 5% when you purchase anything from us...... from a replacement Honda Izy Cutter Blade to brand new Stihl Garden Vac! Simply visit our new Gateshead Lawnmower Centre Facebook page and click on the "Like" button prior to placing your order. Alternatively if your in-store just "CHECK IN" to let everyone know you were here..... it couldn't be easier to make great savings this autumn.
With snow and ice harshly affecting the UK in recent years it may well have caused you significant problems, both while driving and when on foot. But with so many falsehoods relating to who is liable for any slips, falls or accidents people are often reluctant to make any effort at all to clear a problem on or arround there land or property in the beleif that they will then become liable for any accidents if they do not clear it sufficently. This falsehood only leads to further problems and disruption for anybody trying to go about there normal day to day lives during adverse conditions.
We have broken this down to 3 categories for ease:
1. Land/Property owned or controlled by a Local Authority or Highways Agency.
2. Land/Property which is privately owned or occupied.
3. Land/Property which is a business or work place (including Schools).
The Local Authority or Highways Authority has a duty to repair and maintain the highway (Section 41 of the Highways Act 1980). The Local Authority or Highways Authority has duties under the Highways Act 1980 (Section 41(a)) as amended by the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 in respect of snow and ice. The duty with regard to snow and ice is to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along the highway is not endangered by snow and ice. This is not an absolute duty. "Reasonably practicable" and "endangered" are open to interpretation on the facts of each case. The Highways Authority or Highways Agency will have to show that they have taken reasonable steps to discharge their duty and if for example they have a winter maintenance plan in place and this is followed this will generally be enough to discharge their duty.
On a rural road used mainly by tractors it would probably be considered reasonable for the Council not to grit. However, on a busy motorway it would be considered reasonable to grit. The Council does not have to grit all of the highways in their area, nor do they have to have someone on duty all of the time to try and clear the snow and ice. Much will depend on resources and availability of employees to carry out any work. The test will be one of what is "reasonably practicable".
Where land is privately owned or is occupied, you owe visitors a duty of care under the Occupiers Liability Act to take reasonable care that they are safe. This duty means that homeowners / occupiers have to take such care to see that visitors will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which they were invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.
So if you know there will be a milkman or postman delivering to your property and it is slippery you must take reasonable steps to clear and grit if necessary. If necessary you should put up warning notices. This is a different duty and a different standard from the Highways Act 1980. Each case will turn on its own facts.
There is a misconception (almost an urban myth these days) that an occupier cannot be held liable for failure to clear snow/ice but CAN be held liable once an attempt at clearance has been made. The position is that the occupier of a premises can be held liable for “failing to act reasonably” in order to prevent accidents. We at Gateshead Lawnmower Centre would recommend that if you are concerned about your rights and responsibilities to read the latest article from the Governments Direct Gov Website >here<
The important thing is to ensure that you are clearing snow or ice from your property only. If you clear ice or snow from the highway then this is risky from a legal point of view as you may be held liable for any accident as a result. You should not sweep snow onto a public pavement or property as it is a public nuisance to block the pavement.
Where the land in question is for a business or work place additional obligations arise under the Health & Safety Regulations.
A business that invites customers to use its facilities (whether inside or outside) has a duty to ensure their safety. Car parks and walkways to the business need to be “reasonably” free of ice and snow.
It is the duty of the supermarket shop or business to grit the area, remove snow and ensure the safety of customers. If they fail to do so then they may be liable if there is an accident.
Schools will have to consider their responsibilities under the Occupiers Liability Act to ensure that they take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances for the safety of their visitors. Schools are work places and are governed in addition to the Occupiers Liability Act by the Work Place Regulations.
The duty of care is a duty to take such care as is in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.
The approved Code of Practice which supports the Work Place (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations state that “arrangements should be made to minimise risk from snow and ice. This may involve gritting, snow clearing and closing some routes…”.
Heads of School are responsible for ensuring that the means of access to the school is safe both for employees and visitors and that adequate arrangements are made to ensure that the risks from snow and ice are minimised. All reasonable efforts should be made to ensure that the school remains open as normal but if the Head or Governing body considers that this is not safe or presents a risk then the school will close.
When giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we highly recommend that professional advice be sought. This news story comes from publicly available sources.
A common misconception is that thatch is just grass cuttingss that have not decomposed. Grass cuttings can certainly add fuel to a thatch problem once it exists, but in some circumstances (where "Mulch Mowers" are involved) the cuttings can be very beneficial to the lawn and the soil. When grass cuttings decompose or "recycle" within 1 - 2 weeks they provide valuable nutrients back to the land.
Realisticly, Thatch is a matted layer of roots, stems, blades, runners (and grass cuttings!) that builds up on top of the soil like a blanket. If your lawn is very spongy to walk on and if you part the blades of grass on your lawn to find that there is a matted, vegetative blacket about 1/2 inch+ thick, then you have a thatch problem.
Thatch is undesirable for a lot of reasons but mostly because the grass roots of your lawn are literaly up in the thatch, and only barely in the soil due to the blanket of thatch which holds on to any moisture like a sponge, keeping it away from the soil. The soil will eventually dry out and the grass roots will be forced to grow in the moisture enriched thatch rather than the dry soil. This causes even more thatch! This is not a healthy state for any lawn to be in and makes the grass highly susceptible to insects, drought, and winter-kill. If the grass roots are not anchored into the soil correctly you have a weakend lawn and it is only a matter of time before something kills it off.
Having a thatch problem is a sign that there is something wrong with your soil. It could be preventing the grass from rooting due to "compaction" (or clay) or it is not healthy enough to decompose the dead organic matterial which thatch is built up of. Soil should be abundant with microlife in order to be healthy othwise it will become dead, sterile and baron. If you have used lots of conventional lawn fertilizers that are high in chlorides or salts, you may have killed a lot of beneficial microlife yourself!
"A lack of earthworms is an indicator of a bad soil. In fact, you'll rarely see thatch where earthworms are abundant because along with being great soil aerators, they are one of nature's best thatch digesters."
You can not rectify a heavy thatch problem by using a Scarifying / Dethatching Machine alone. A Scarifier will only tackle the surface problem by removing dead or matted grass, cuttings and debris. The real solution to removing thatch completely is to Aerate your soil so it becomes bioactive and healthly enough to make the thatch to decompose itself. When you do this, the thatch will gradually break down and turn into a rich, natural compost. This process may take several years to fully decompose depending on the severity of the problem, but once the soil is aerated and has a healthy balance of nutrients, it will decompose.
Improve soil aeration. Thatch-decomposing microbes require air to survive, as does your lawn in general. Improving the aeration of your lawn is vital if you want to remove thatch problems and increase your soil's microlife. Using an Aerator rather than a Scarifier or better still, in conjunction with a scarifier, will produce far better reults. In some cases it may be beneficial to take a core sample to see what sort of soil compaction you are dealing with.
Increase the Microlife. Soak some compost in a bucket of water for a day or so and spray the liquid over the lawn. You could also try treating the thatch with a Biological Dethatcher that contains specific microbes and enzymes designed to accelerate thatch decomposition.
Keeping your soil moist - not your thatch. When the soil dries up, decomposition ceases. Less frequent, heavy waterings work best. If you water regularly and lightly you keep the thatch layer itself moist rather than drenching water through to the soil. Fungus may become a problem with frequent watering. Remember - you want to encourage the grass roots to go down into the soil for water and not grow in a wet layer of thatch.
Test the pH Levels of your soil and add Lime as required. Acidic soil can dramatically slow down or even prevent thatch decomposition. To much lime can cause the same problem so this needs to be managed correctly. How to Test / Adjust Your Soils pH Level for Grass Growth
Collect your grass cuttings. They will only add to the thatch problem until it is resolved so stay away from Mulch Mowers if you currently have a problem.
You will need to fertilize on a regular basis because soil micro-organisms need Nitrogen to decompose thatch. You should also try to avoid fertilizers that contain Muriate Of Potash (Potassium Chloride) as chlorides can be hazardous to soil's microlife. Granular fertilizers should also be kept away from, because unless they are water soluble, they will sit on top of the thatch layer and will be very slow to break down and release their nutrients. Liquid fertilizers are normally the best when thatch is present as they will go right through to the soil when watered in, and won't get stuck on/in the thatch. Monthly applications of a liquid fertilizer (that is free from Salt or Chloride) will provide more Nitrogen and will therefore promote faster thatch decomposition.