LONDON trading standards officers have caused consternation in the tool hire industry after a survey found more than a quarter of equipment for hire could be lethal.
The survey, by the Brent and Harrow Trading Standards Office, saw officers hiring tools from a range of outlets in the borough, from single shops to DIY stores.
Of 33 items hired, from belt sanders to floor cleaners, nine were found to be unsafe.
Two were judged to be so dangerous they could kill or cause serious injury.
Steve Playle, the officer who organised the survey, said the results were particularly disappointing, since they followed similarly poor findings in a survey last year.
'I hoped it would show a vast improvement. It is worrying to see the tool hire industry has not got its act together, ' he said.
One tool, a hedge trimmer, was found to have exposed live parts following a botched cable repair, as well as loose blades. Most of the unsafe tools were found to have problems with the cord grips and the integrity of the electrical flex.
'These are simple things which wear out, but the shop doesn't bother to change them, ' said Mr Playle.
The hirers concerned face prosecution. If found guilty, they could face fines of up to £5,000 and six months' imprisonment.
Even in some of the big hirers, shop staff had cut corners.
'Some companies have excellent systems in place, but it doesn't filter down to the shop level, said Mr Playle.
But the report has been angrily received by tool hirers' body the Hire Association Europe, which believes the results have been overstated.
Chief executive John Coyne said: 'We are very disappointed that Trading Standards, a body with which we have worked a lot, put out such a report based on a small number of tools, not naming any names and promoting it as 'killers for hire'.
'We all know there are unscrupulous hirers, the same way there are cowboy builders, and the only way to stamp them out is to name and shame. Also, the report makes reference to a DIY chain, which is not in any shape or form a tool hirer.'
Mr Playle replied that the survey had covered the full range of hire operations, in addition to DIY, from single independents to well-known national chains.
He added that previous legal problems had prevented the department from naming names before prosecuting.
'I would love to name and shame, because these are potentially killers, ' he said.
He advised workers on site to be more careful when in the hire shop.
'The safest thing is to always use a circuit breaker, but if a tool looks dirty and scruffy, it's better to put it back and choose a better looking one.'
In a bid to promote safe practice among its hirers, the HAE is launching the SafeHire scheme next month. Those signing up to the scheme, which costs £290, will be given a full safety assessment of their premises by HAE, and those that pass will be able to display the SafeHire logo and be put on a list of approved safe hirers for utilities and local authorities. Subsequently they will be visited by mystery shoppers who will do a test hire and give confidential feedback.