Safety Precautions When Working in the Woods, Part I: Using Chainsaws
By Ellen S. Gibson
Logging is at the top of the list of dangerous occupations. Operations on large landholdings (50 acres and up) have become increasingly mechanized and the knowledge of how to operate and maintain heavy machinery is essential. Farmers tend to manage smaller woodlots to supply woodstoves and to provide an additional source of income. Many use chainsaws for these smaller operations. Felling trees with a chainsaw requires knowledge of the saw, good balance, appropriate body mechanics, and attention to safety protocols.
Keeping safe when using a chainsaw: some highlights
When you’re going into the woods, let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. Take a cell phone. Have a good first aid kit.
Using a chainsaw is strenuous exercise. Warm your muscles up to prepare for the work of the day. Stretch before and after using a saw. Eat well and stay hydrated. Protect your skin with sunscreen.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
When working with a chainsaw, PPE is critical for safety. The basics include protection for your skull, eyes, ears, hands, legs, and feet.
- A good hardhat will protect your head, eyes and ears. A hardhat should have at least four internal straps that fit over your head and leave space between your skull and the top of the hat. This provides a shock absorber if something heavy falls on your head.
- The hardhat should have a visor to protect your eyes from sawdust and wood chips moving at high velocity.
- Ear protection is very important. Hearing loss is cumulative. Hearing can be damaged in five minutes of sawing time. Earmuffs are normally attached to the hardhat and can be flipped up and back when they’re not needed.
- Hardhats are made of plastic, which breaks down over time. Sunlight hastens this process. Store hardhats away from direct sunlight when not in use. If your hardhat is faded or cracked, replace it.
- The best kind of boot is one with Kevlar, a special fibrous material that will entangle a moving chain and stop it before serious injury occurs. Sneakers or leather boots will not protect your feet from a moving chainsaw.
- Boots for chainsaw work should have a steel toe – to protect the foot if anything heavy drops on it – and steel shanks. You can combine steel-toed boots with Kevlar “booties,” which are liners that fit inside the boot. There are also Kevlar boots that fit over the boot as another form of protection.
- Women may have to be creative to find boots that fit. Wearing boots that are too big is a serious tripping hazard.
- When using a chainsaw, wear protective pants that have Kevlar sewn-in bands down the leg. This kind of construction will buy you precious seconds in the event of an accident. As an added benefit, these pants have no clips to catch on branches that could cause you to trip or lose your balance.
- Many people wear chaps. When fitted properly, the chaps cover your leg from the hip to the instep of your foot. Don’t leave a gap between the end of the chaps and the beginning of your boot. Buy wrap-around chaps that go all the way around the leg.
There are many aspects of chainsaw safety. For inexperienced operators, safety training is essential. For experienced operators, brushing up on safety protocol keeps a person vigilant.
- Find a complete list of OSHA guidelines and a handy OSHA QuickCard here: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/3269-10N-05-english-06-27-2007.html
- Chainsaw safety classes:
- Game of Logging http://www.gameoflogging.com/
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) https://www.mofga.org/
Part II in this series will address safety protocol on mechanized logging operations, based on a conversation with Donald Burr, Safety and Training Coordinator for Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.