What’s the most often used mechanical tool on a tree care job site? If you answered chain saw, you’re spot on. Trying to imagine tree care without chain saws would be like firefighting without hoses — it’s not practical and pretty much not possible. With that being said, the use of chain saws comes with many inherent dangers, even for the most seasoned tree care professional. Despite all the safety features and protective clothing, injuries can still easily arise from chain saw use; from the large forces involved in operations of the saws, to the fast-moving, sharp chains or from the vibration and even the noise of the machinery.
We’ve combed through our archives and compiled some helpful safety tips and pieces of advice for practicing safe chain saw use. Though many tree care workers have this information memorized, it never hurts to have a refresher course or be reminded of what to do and what not to do:
- Chain saws are required by law/standard/regulation to have all of the manufacturer-provided safety features in order to be operated. If a chain saw is missing any of these features, or the features aren’t functioning correctly, it’s a violation of law/standard/regulation to use said chain saw. The required safety features include the chain brake, chain catcher, throttle interlock and spark arrester.
- Saw manufacturers regularly research and develop new ergonomic designs and operator features to enhance operator comfort and safety. The big four safety features — inertia chain brake, throttle interlock, chain catch pin and rear hand guard — are industry-regulated and well-known. Without them present and/or functioning, a modern saw is unsafe to operate.
- Chain saws should be started with the chain brake engaged and in a position that minimizes the movement of the saw when the cord is pulled. The left hand should be gripping the grab handle of the saw, and the right on the pull handle of the starter cord. Two simple and efficient methods are bracing the chain saw against the ground when starting, or carefully locking it behind the left knee while bracing it on the right thigh when starting it while standing, often called the leg-lock start.
- Chain saws should never be drop started when being used on the ground. This isn’t only dangerous, but it’s also hard on the saw’s starter cord/recoil mechanism. Keeping both hands on the saw for stability is essential for safe chain saw use.
- The chain brake should be engaged when taking more than two steps with a running saw to avoid tripping and falling while grabbing at the throttle trigger and falling toward a running chain.
- To maximize control of falling trees, a 70- to 90-degree face notch is preferred. This allows the hinge to hold until the tree is almost on the ground.
- The saw should be operated from a well-balanced body position using both hands on the handles, with the thumbs and fingers wrapped around them.
- Chain saws should never be operated above shoulder height.
- A common accident arises from kickback, when a chain tooth at the tip of the guide bar catches on wood without cutting through it. This throws the bar (with its moving chain) in an upward arc toward the operator, which can cause injury or even death. Chain saw operators should be aware at all times of the location of the tip of the bar when cutting and take measures to prevent the upper quadrant from coming into contact with any objects that might generate kickback.
- Another dangerous situation occurs when heavy timber begins to fall or shift before a cut is complete – the chain saw operator may be trapped or crushed. Similarly, timber falling in an unplanned direction may harm the operator or other workers, or an operator working at a height may fall or be injured by falling timber. Injury can also result if the chain breaks during operation due to poor maintenance or attempting to cut inappropriate materials.
- Protective personal equipment (PPE) such as chain saw boots, chain saw trousers and hearing protectors are normally worn during operation, and many jurisdictions require that operators be certified or licensed to work with chain saws.
- Just as it is when using a chain saw on the ground, PPE is required for chain saw use aloft. Required PPE includes a helmet/hard hat and hearing and eye protection. While chain saw-resistant chaps or pants may not be required for aerial chain saw use in your area, they are highly recommended.
- Like other hand-held machinery, using a chain saw can cause vibration white finger, tinnitus or industrial deafness. These symptoms were very common when such equipment was not de-vibrated. On most of today’s equipment, there are damping elements (in rubber or steel spring) that significantly lower these risks.
In general, it’s important to create a culture of safety at your company and among your team. Altering an established business culture can be difficult if employees are set in their ways. Therefore, it’s important to create a culture of safety from the start. If you’ve noticed safety deficiencies among you and your crew and are ready for a change, start with weekly safety discussions, tracking every incident and creating a monthly safety task force.
Read more: Proper Chain Saw Techniques