It often comes as a surprise to some that working with a chain saw is one of the most dangerous activities a worker can perform, especially if the worker is falling trees. The more frequently field professionals perform activities with a chain saw, the more likely they are to have an accident.

The following are five ways to ensure that you are protecting yourself and your workers against a serious chain saw injury.

  1. Wear the proper chain saw safety apparel and personal protective equipment

    When using a chain saw, wear a hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, sturdy steel-toe work boots, and Underwriters Laboratory (UL)-rated chain saw protective chaps or pants. It is important to understand that no chain saw protective apparel is chain saw-proof. It does, however, provide you a protective buffer in the event a spinning chain contacts a part of your body.

  2. Replace chain saw safety apparel when it is damaged or worn out

    Too often chain saw operators wear chain saw protective apparel with broken buckles or zippers. While damaged protective garments offer inadequate protection, users are often reluctant to replace them because of cost. They must ask themselves this question: What is my personal protection worth? Clearly, this is a priceless commodity, as it serves to protect them from a potentially life threatening injury.

  3. Make sure your chain saw safety apparel is rated for safety and certified by a recognized independent testing lab

    Buyers must ensure the safety apparel they purchase has labels indicating the product is tested and rated. This ensures that the product has undergone independent review and quarterly manufacturer site visits and quality-control evaluations. Not all standards maintain this type of quality security. In North America, the only body verifying that a chain saw apparel product does what it claims is the Underwriters Laboratory located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Their process does not verify a chain saw protective garment that does not have a UL tag on it.

  4. Use the safety features that modern chain saws come equipped with

    Modern chain saws have an inertial chain brake, meaning that the handle is weighted in a very specific manner to engage the chain brake, should a kickback occur, without the operators hand coming in contact with the chain brake, such as in the felling position with the saw on its side.

    The chain catcher pin is located directly beneath and to the rear of the cutter bar, is made out of soft aluminum or a plastic roller (chain saw model dependent), and is intended to catch and slow a thrown chain. This is a wear item that should be checked to ensure that it has not been damaged or broken off through use.

    The wrist guard is the widened section of the rear handle, located on the bottom right side of rear-handled chain saws, directly beneath where the operator's hand would grasp. It is intended to work in conjunction with the chain catcher pin to prevent a thrown chain from being thrown up into the operator's hand.

    The throttle interlock is located on top of the rear handle of the chain saw and prevents operation of the throttle unless it is depressed. It is intended to prevent operation of the chain saw without an operator's hand in the “driver's seat.”

  5. Know the facts about chain saw safety

    Almost 25% of the tree worker accidents surveyed in a recent study involved contact with a chain saw.

    It is not just direct contact with a chain saw that causes injury. The risk of struck-bys (trees or limbs falling on workers as they are cutting with chain saws) is even higher, at just more than 25% of the accidents surveyed. Of the documented fatalities studied amongst people who worked with trees in the United States between 1991 and 2006, it was shown that a tree worker was killed every three working days. Thirty-five percent of these deaths occurred during chain saw operations such as felling and cutting trees.

    If using a chain saw and cutting trees is in your job description, seek out training, and purchase and use tested and rated personal protective equipment. It is incumbent on us all to do what we can to ensure the safety of our workers.

Dwayne Neustaeter (dneuy@arborcanada.com) is a recognized safety expert who has been training and certifying chain saw operators in the arborist and utility industries for more than 20 years. For more information, visit www.arborcanada.com or www.chainsawsafetysolutions.com.