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Chainsaw Safety, Part III: Unsafe Practices

by Rich Taber, CCE Chenago

This is the third installment in a series on chainsaw safety and operation, as part of our CCE Chenango grant project done in collaboration with the New York Farm Viability Institute, “Increased Farm Profitability and Diversity through Value-Added Forest Products Initiative”.  We have been encouraging farmers and woodland owners to develop forest based enterprises, many of which at one time or another require the safe use of chainsaws. In Part 1 (Fall 2017) we discussed personal protective equipment that is needed for the safe operation of chainsaws. In Part 2 (Winter 2018) we elaborated on the specifics of each component needed for a fully functional personal protective system, which includes protection for head, hearing, eye, leg, feet, and hands.  In this article we will discuss some of the specific unsafe and hazardous practices which commonly lead to chainsaw and tree felling injuries.

As mentioned previously, I have seen a number of television shows which depict chainsaw users committing horribly unsafe and dangerous practices, as well as having frequently witnessed such acts in person. I will list just a few of the many unsafe practices which can lead to injury or death; as a farm owner you must not allow you or anyone working on your farm, either as an employee or just a casual woodcutter to conduct themselves in an unsafe manner.

The first major violation that I see is not using proper personal protective equipment, such as a proper helmet with head, eye, ear, and face protection. Next would be not using safety leggings or chaps. The majority of chainsaw injuries occur in the lower leg region. Finally, not wearing proper foot gear can result in cuts or feet being crushed under rolling logs.

The next area where I see a lot of safety violations is in the use of the chainsaw itself. Running a saw with a loose chain is hazardous, as the chain can fly off if it’s not properly tightened.  Running a chainsaw with a dull chain tends to have the operator try to force the chain through the log, causing fatigue and inefficient use of the saw. There are several different ways to sharpen a chainsaw; attendance at a chainsaw safety course will get your sharpening techniques up to par. The chainsaw owner’s manual will show the proper chain tension, as well as the proper techniques to properly sharpening the chain.

Probably the most common and egregious error that I have seen is the “drop starting” of chainsaws. This is done by holding the saw in one hand and pulling the start cord with the saw held unsecured, with the other hand, in the air. The saw needs to be either on the ground or held and braced securely against a leg.

Oh, by the way, are you left handed?  Sorry, but you cannot safely run a chainsaw left handed, and you are going to have to use it right handed.  Using a chainsaw left handed can result in the chain being pulled back into your vulnerable body if it kicks back.

Kickback injuries: kickback occurs when the tip of the saw chain bounces back towards the operator, sometimes penetrating bones and flesh. These types injuries can be prevented by not letting the top tip end of the bar hit something. I personally wear the scars on my face and left clavicle from a long ago kick back injury that occurred in 1983, and which I still occasionally feel slight pain from! Avoid kickback!

The chainsaw must be properly maintained, and a tool kit with all of the necessary tools must be close by, as well as a well-stocked first aid kit. It’s always a good idea to not work alone in the woods, or if you have to, to have your cell phone on your person so that you can call for emergency help if you need it. If you hurt yourself, it does no good to have the phone “back in the truck” several hundred yards away.

Be safe! Arms, legs, and fingers do not grow back! 

Rich Taber M.S., M.S.F., is Grazing, Forestry, and Ag Economic Development Specialist for CCE Chenango. He also lives on a 165 acre mixed grazing, livestock, and wooded farm property in Madison County with his wife Wendy, along with their beef cattle, sheep, poultry flocks, coonhounds, border collies, farm machinery, and chainsaws. Rich can be reached at 607-334- 5841 ext. 21 or email: rbt44@cornell.edu

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