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DIY store advice fails safety tests

Holes uncovered in chainsaw safety advice

Using a chainsaw

Goggles and gloves are essential chainsaw safety equipment

Some branches of the UK’s biggest DIY stores are selling chainsaws and lawnmowers with little or no safety advice, a Which? investigation has revealed.

Posing as a customer, we visited 42 stores to test the safety advice offered when you buy potentially lethal tools, and found that some staff didn’t seem to have a clue about safety.

Chainsaw concerns

Six of the 18 stores that recommended a chainsaw failed to advise us on using goggles and gloves – essential basic safety equipment, in our expert’s view – and no store was rated excellent for chainsaw knowledge.

One member of staff told us not to bother with chainsaw safety equipment, saying ‘I wouldn’t use it’ and several others told us that a chainsaw would be fine to use on shrubs – when actually this could be particularly dangerous as small twigs can cause the chain to jam, and the chainsaw to jump erratically.

Which? members can read the full article ‘DIY advice fails safety tests’ in the August issue of Which? magazine or in our online magazine archive from Thursday 28 July. If you’re not a member, subscribe to Which? magazine now to try three issues for just £3.

Reducing electrocution risk

Our experts believe that anyone who buys an electric lawnmower or chainsaw should be advised to use it with an RCD (residual current device) to reduce the chance of electrocution if you cut through a power cable.

However, only nine of the 20 stores which recommended electrical products to us mentioned that you should use them with an RCD.

B&Q and Homebase

We visited 12 B&Q stores, but only one was rated good for establishing our needs. In the six chainsaw visits, we were given good safety advice in just one of the stores.

B&Q told us: ‘We are continually investing in the service we provide to our customers and whilst we’re not legally required to give safety advice, we are obviously disappointed that in a few instances customers were not given more comprehensive advice. We are reviewing the advice being given on these products.’

Homebase offered us the best advice on lawnmowers, but also the worst advice on chainsaws. In half of our visits staff showed poor chainsaw knowledge and offered poor safety advice.

However, all five stores that recommended electric chainsaws or electric mowers advised us on the benefits of using an RCD. Homebase has passed on the details of our investigation to its central training department to consider.

The Garden Centre Group and independents

The Garden Centre Group recommended electric lawnmowers in five out of six visits, but advised us on using an RCD in just two. The group said that its staff have annual health and safety training, and added that if our shoppers had bought a lawnmower they’d have been told about RCDs at the point of sale. This is reassuring, but we think consumers should be told about recommended extra purchases before they commit to buying.

Staff in independent shops generally showed a good level of knowledge about lawnmowers and chainsaws, but were less effective at establishing and responding to our needs. Just one store was rated good for its safety advice, and two didn’t recommend any safety equipment at all.

Our research

We made and recorded a total of 42 visits to B&Q, Homebase, the Garden Centre Group and independent DIY stores to see whether they’d give us what our experts considered basic safety advice for anyone buying a chainsaw or lawnmower.

This is our third investigation to uncover whether shop floor staff know what they are talking about. We’ve previously found staff in major electrical stores baffled by basic questions and offering variable advice in mobile phone shops.

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Do you think DIY staff should be offering safety advice? And where have you been impressed or let down by staff knowledge? Join the debate at Which? Conversation.

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