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SAFETY CORNER - Operating chainsaws safely, correctly

By Tom Anderson | GARRISON SAFETY OFFICE | January 24, 2018

     While chainsaws are timesavers on farms, ranches and at home, chainsaw safety is vital if you want to avoid painful injuries.

     According to ResearchGate, each year more than 3 million new chainsaws are sold in the U.S. The operation of the newer saws, combined with the millions of older chainsaws in circulation, results in more than 28,000 chainsaw-related injures annually.

     Most chainsaw accidents occur because the operator is either inexperienced and using the tool incorrectly, or they simply cannot handle the chainsaw because it is above their skill level. Poor judgment also contributes to accidents.

     Chainsaw cuts or lacerations are the most common injury. A chainsaw at full speed runs more than 30 feet of chain past a single point on the bar in the split-second it takes for a user to react. The lacerations are usually deep and often accompanied with fractures, amputations and severed nerves and tendons.

     The majority of the injuries involve the hands and lower extremities with less than 10 percent involving injuries to the head and neck regions. While deaths from operating a chainsaw are extremely rare, there is no such thing as a minor chainsaw injury.

 

TAKE THE FOLLOWING STEPS TO REDUCE THE RISK OF INJURY OR DEATH WHEN USING A CHAINSAW:

                Read the instruction and safety manual. Follow all recommended guidelines.

                Store the manuals in a place where you can easily find them and contact the company should you need to replace them. Most chainsaw manuals are available online.

                If you have never used a chainsaw, seek the guidance from a qualified mentor.

                Know the chainsaw’s limitations as well as your own. Take your time and rest often so that you remain alert for potential hazards.

 

Avoiding injury also de­mands the use of proper per­sonal protective equipment recommended for chainsaw use. To ensure maximum pro­tection, apply the following PPE recommendations for chainsaws:

                All PPE required for operating a chainsaw must fit the operator properly and be in good condition.

                Protective leg chaps should be made from ballistic nylon or Kevlar to protect the legs from the running chainsaw.

                Wear a properly fitted hard hat that is comfortable and provides protection from small falling limbs or debris.

                Wear either a full-face shield, safety goggles or safety glasses with side shields to protect your face from flying wood chips, twigs and sawdust.

                Wear earplugs and/or earmuffs to protect your hearing from the noise levels associated with running a chainsaw.

                Wear steel-toed, high-top boots to protect your feet from potential contact with the chainsaw or with heavy falling or rolling objects. Boots should have aggressive-treaded soles to protect you from slipping.

                Wear leather gloves to protect your hands from cuts, abrasions or splinters. You can wear specialized woodcutter’s gloves that have slip-resistant palms and are made of synthetic cut-resistant material similar to the material in leg chaps.

 

     Another consideration is the type of chainsaw. There are three size classes of chainsaws. It is important to identify the one that is the best match for the job(s) that you need to complete. Small chainsaws have 8- to 14-inch guide bars and are designed to do light work, such as cutting small branches and felling very small trees.

     Medium chainsaws have 16- to 22-inch guide bars and work well for felling, limbing and bucking trees in the diameter range of 8- to 22-inches across.

     Large chainsaws are designed for professional use and usually have guide bar lengths greater than 18 inches. These chainsaws are designed for heavy logging use.

      Once the proper chainsaw is selected, it is imperative that the chainsaw be balanced and equipped with important safety features:

                Front hand guard: The front hand guard is a paddle-like device located ahead of the front or top handle of the chainsaw such that it stops an operator’s left hand from coming in contact with the chain if this hand slips off the handle.

                Chain brake: Chain brakes, a feature of gas chainsaws, reduce the risk of injury. If activated, it stops the saw’s chain immediately if kickback occurs. Usually, the chain brake is activated by contact with the front hand guard, but it also may be activated by a sudden jerk of the chainsaw, an inertia activated feature. It is strongly recommended to purchase chainsaws with both types of chain brake activation in the chain brake system.

                Throttle trigger interlock: This feature prevents the accidental opening of the throttle.

                Stop switch: The stop switch should be easy for an operator to activate with his or her right thumb while gripping the saw’s rear handle.

                Antivibration system or vibration damping: An antivibration system can reduce operator fatigue and decrease the strain placed on the operator’s hands. Vibration damping, achieved through rubber bushings and/or metal springs on the chainsaw, reduces the operator’s exposure to vibration.

                Rear hand guard: A rear hand guard on the lower part of the chainsaw by the rear handle protects the operator’s right hand from a broken or jumping chain.

                Reduced kickback or anti-kickback chain: Most consumer chainsaws are equipped with low-kickback chains or chains that are designed to have reduced kickback energy.

                Chain catcher: This feature is designed to catch a broken or jumping chain.

                Continuous pressure throttle: This feature shuts off power to a chainsaw when pressure is reduced.

                Muffler: The muffler limits the noise level of the saw and directs hot exhaust gases away from the operator.

                Spark arrestor: A spark arrestor prevents sparks from being ejected by the exhaust.

 

      Finally, a chainsaw in proper working condition is safer and easier to operate than a poor one. Before putting the chainsaw into use, make sure the chain is properly sharpened, tensioned on the chainsaw bar and the chain oiler reservoir is filled with proper bar and chain oil.

     Most chainsaw operations involve removing branches and limbs from a fallen tree or limbing. Tree limbing is one of the most dangerous activities a chainsaw operator does because of the complex hazards involved. Chainsaw operations require users to be constantly alert to recognize and avoid other complications involved in limbing. For this reason, use the buddy system when conducting operations. Always keep children away from the chainsaw and know the location of everyone in your group, especially when felling trees, have a first-aid kit on hand and know how to address bleeding, second degree burns, broken bones and shock. Chainsaw mutilations can be brutal and gruesome.

      For more information on chainsaw safety, contact the Garrison Safety Office at 785-240-0647.