Chainsaw Safety Part One
Starting up a chainsaw can be a safe thing but can also be dangerous. Understand a chainsaw is a tool for professionals. It can be used by non-professionals but you need to know what you’re doing and you need to work safely. A chainsaw is a very dangerous piece of equipment if used improperly. It is designed to go right through a tree easily. It will obviously do extreme damage if it comes in contact with any body parts.
After a thunderstorm, or a natural disaster like a tornado, hurricane or flood, there is often the need to clear debris away from homes and property. This discussion centers around the homeowner who might find himself using a chainsaw for the first time -or who may only seldom use a chainsaw. Understanding proper safety features of the machine, proper technique, and the safety gear (PPE) available for protection is paramount in preventing serious injury or death and becoming more productive. All are discussed in an OSHA document on the topic.
This discussion is not intended for professionals. Professionals receive proper safety training and are qualified to use a chainsaw, unlike the homeowner who, without proper training and qualification places himself at far greater risk than a professional who uses a chainsaw for a living. It is incumbent upon anyone using a chainsaw to understand that pros wear proper protective gear and sometimes do suffer serious injuries. Don’t be a hero. Buy personal protective equipment (PPE) and use it. An old adage: There are old chainsaw operators and there are foolish chainsaw operators. There are no old, foolish chainsaw operators. Any seasoned chainsaw operator will tell you that complacency is a killer. Stay focused at all times. Do not attempt to use a cellphone while operating a chainsaw. As silly as that may sound, I know a person who was injured by his saw kicking back. he took it in the forehead. Root cause: complacency, no PPE, talking on his cellphone. (Foolish chainsaw operator).
Chainsaw Safety Part Two
Before you start a chainsaw there are a couple things to do. First, read and understand the owners manual. In one manual reviewed, there was 23 pages dedicated to safe, injury free operation. All that before getting into mixing the gas and starting the engine. Secondly, do as the professionals do. Perform a head to feet check. This is all part of a comprehensive chainsaw safety program -whether for homeowners or seasoned professionals.
- Most important is the hard hat (where your brain is housed). If the tip of the saw gets caught or sticks on something, it can ‘kick back’ which places an extremely powerful force on your arms that you will not be able to control. The hard hat will protect you if it comes straight up at your head. Ideally, your body should not be squared off directly behind the saw. Position yourself so if the saw kicks back it’ll go to the side of your head.
- Next is eye and face protection. A flip-down mask protects the entire face as well as the eyes from flying chips and dust. ANSI approved safety glasses are acceptable.
- Ear muffs are excellent, but warm in the summertime. Chainsaws generate very high decibel sound that will damage your hearing: In the short term you may will experience buzzing or ringing that may go away in time. Repeated exposure will cause permanent damage. Use either approved ear muffs or approved ear plugs.
- Wear long sleeves or a good heavy coat and / or arm guards. Arm guards have Kevlar woven into the fabric and will stop a chain from cutting your arm and causing a lot of bleeding.
- Use heavy work gloves with Kevlar backing o protect your hands.
- Common injuries are to the forearm and wounds to the back of the hands, as well as leg wounds. Protect legs with chainsaw chaps. The chain is typically going at about 60 mph. The chaps will stop the chain before cutting into your leg. Your blue jeans will not.
- Wear good hard-sole work shoes or boots with steel toes. Not sneakers and not flip-flops.
A chainsaw does not leave a clean wound. It leaves a jagged, ugly wound and it is very difficult to stop the bleeding. Think about where chainsaws are used. You might use it in your backyard. However, what if you’re up in the woods cutting a Christmas tree of cutting firewood. If you’re by yourself and the saw comes back at you -you could bleed to death. For that reason, it is unwise to work alone. Use the buddy system.
Modern chainsaws are designed with safety features to help protect the operator. The anti-kickback chain and the chain brake are two of the most important. If a kickback occurs, your wrist will strike the chain brake and the chain will stop, theoretically before the chain strikes your head or other body part.
When trimming a tree -the rule is never raise the power head of the saw (the engine assembly) above shoulder level. If above your shoulders, you can easily lose control of the saw. If pruning above your shoulders use the old style pole pruner to reach up and trim 10-12 feet high. Today there are motorized models on the market -either gas or electric. The gas model has the engine down low so the operator can maintain control. Bear in mind that what you cut overhead is coming your way -branches and sawdust. Wear your PPE.
The non-professional is discouraged from attempting to climb a ladder and/or tree and operating a chainsaw. Many people fall from trees and ladders due to the awkward positions they find themselves in while trying to manipulate the chainsaw. If you must, use an approved fall protection harness. A better idea is to call in a professional who has a trained eye toward identifying hazards -especially electric lines.
If a saw is not properly maintained, it becomes a hazard in itself. Take it to a qualified repair shop for proper servicing.
Important resources for further information: