December Web Exclusive


Chain Saw Safety
Be prepared for the unexpected

by Kathleen Hatt

        If you've never seen what happens when a chain saw and a human body meet, great! If not and you need to be scared into doing what's necessary to avoid chain saw injuries, check out these images. Warning: They are gory.
        Seen enough? Now, what can you do to make sure you don't discover, up and close and personal, the damage a chain saw can do to a body? In 2011, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 30,212 people did. They had to be treated in emergency rooms in every state of the union. Face it: If you are injured by a chain saw, you probably won't be able to continue farming in your usual way for some time, if ever.

        Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

        Know your saw
        Read the manual and familiarize yourself with the parts of your saw. Newer chain saws have safety features that are lacking in most older models. If your chain saw did not come with a manual, look for one online. Most manuals for older models are posted on manufacturers' websites.

        Suit up
        You might say to yourself, "It's only a couple of cuts and it'll only take a couple of minutes. Besides, helmets are hot and it takes too long to put on chaps." Accidents probably happen more frequently on jobs requiring "just a couple of little cuts" than on larger jobs that have been more carefully thought out. Before you consider starting your chain saw without first donning personal protective equipment, ask yourself this: How long will it take to recover from a chain saw injury--a month, a year, a lifetime?

        Your helmet should be adjustable, equipped with a liner, and include eye and ear protection. Chaps made of Kevlar are best at resisting cuts to the legs. Remember gloves to protect hands and steel-toed boots to protect ankles and feet.

        Avoid loose-fitting clothing. Be sure there are no dangling cords, loose belt ends, long hair or anything else that could become entangled in a chain saw.

        Maintain your saw
        Check that teeth are sharp, chain tension is correct, the saw is properly tuned and lubricated, and that safety equipment is functioning. See the owner's manual for details.

        Fuel a cool engine
        Never fuel a hot engine. Before fueling, clear your site of all combustible materials. Sparks from a hot engine can be a fire hazard. To avoid spilling fuel on the engine, use a funnel or flexible nozzle. Refill the oil tank every time you refuel. Also check chain tension and make sure nuts and bolts are tight. Never smoke while fueling. One pint of gasoline has the explosive power of a stick of dynamite.

        Plan ahead
        What is the job and how are you going to approach it? Where can you escape to safety if something goes wrong? If you are taking down a tree, make an escape path 45 degrees to the rear of the tree-fall line. Never walk around revving the motor while you make plans.

        Before cutting a tree, remove dead or broken limbs. Check for trees with large crotches that can split or cause the tree to fall either way.

        Choose the proper-sized chain saw for the job. Chain saws should have a chain brake, front and rear hand guards, a stop switch, a chain catcher and a spark arrester.

        Start safely
        Never drop-start a saw. The bar will swing, and you will have no control over it. Place the saw on level ground and clear the area of rocks and debris. Make sure the bar and chain are out of the dirt. Then start the saw. Put one foot in the hand guard at the rear of the saw. Grip the top handle firmly. Use the other hand to pull the starter rope. If yours is a small saw without room for your boot in the rear hand guard, use one hand to hold the saw firmly in place on the ground.

        Prevent kickback
        Kickback happens when the upper tip of the guide bar grabs into the wood. The force of the engine can then push (or kick) the saw back in an upward arc toward the operator. Kickback can also occur when the wood pinches the saw chain in the cut.

        To prevent kickback, keep a firm, two-handed grip on the saw by grasping the forward handle with the left hand, palm down. Then wrap your fingers around the handlebar and keep it between your index finger and thumb. Grasp the rear handle firmly with your right hand. Always stand to one side of the cut; never stand directly in back. Always cut with the bottom part of the chain. Never cut with the tip of the chain saw. Avoid cutting limbs above chest height.

        Expect the unexpected
        Stay safe by being prepared for unforeseen circumstances--and avoid becoming a cautionary tale or a grisly photo on the Internet.

        For more chain saw safety tips, check out this video:

Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and editor and a frequent contributor to Farming. She lives in Henniker, N.H.

Photo at top: © User:Hustvedt/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0.