HAND & POWER TOOLS: Chainsaw Safety

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: January 9th, 2012
Topics: Power Tools |

Chainsaws are dangerous. And because they’re used around the house away from work, they pose an off-duty threat to workers. Here’s an overview of basic chainsaw safety requirements and measures.

PPE to Use with Chainsaws

First, workers need to use the proper PPE when using a chainsaw, including:

Clothing: For cut protection of the legs, chaps or special logging pants are necessary. If the chainsaw were to slip, these specially designed pants help protect your leg by ripping apart and clogging the chain and sprockets. A long-sleeved shirt is also needed to protect against scratches from the branches and twigs; and

Hand Protection: Gloves, generally leather palm, are a must because they provide protection against vibration and abrasion resistance from handling the wood.

Eye, head and face protection: Wood chips flying around means eye, head and face protection are a must, as are safety glasses with side-shields and a face shield. The use of the logger’s hardhat with built-in face shield and hearing protection is a good solution.

Hearing protection: Chainsaws are noisy, especially those powered by gasoline. Appropriate hearing protection is required with the latter. Options:

  • The hearing muff protector in the logger’s hardhat;
  • A regular hearing muff; or
  • Any type of in-the-ear plug.

Rules for Safe Operation of Chainsaws

Like any other dangerous power tool, chainsaws must be operated in a safe manner. Rules of thumb for workers:

1. Read manufacturer’s instructions: Do this before you begin. If workers don’t understand any aspect of the instructions, they need to be told to ask their supervisor for help.

2. Check work area: Workers should not start cutting with a chainsaw unless and until they verify that they have:

  • A clear work area;
  • Secure footing; and
  • A planned path of retreat, e.g., from a falling tree.

3. Inspect: Chainsaws must be inspected prior to use and not used if they’re found to be:

  • Damaged;
  • Improperly adjusted; or
  • Not completely assembled.

4. Test Throttle Control: One of the key things to verify in pre-use inspection is that the cutting chain actually stops moving when the throttle control trigger is released. Chainsaws must not be used if there’s any doubt regarding its mechanical condition.

5. Maintain Proper Tension: Maintain proper saw chain tension. A loose chain can come off the guide bar and strike the operator.

6. Use Proper Grip: When cutting, workers should:

  • Hold the saw firmly with both hands, with thumbs and fingers encircling both chainsaw handles;
  • Grip the saw with the right hand on the rear (throttle) handle and the left hand on the front handle, even if they’re left-handed–a firm grip is essential to maintaining control of the saw in the event of kickback or other unexpected reaction; and
  • Keep the chainsaw handles dry, clean and free of oil or fuel mixture to avoid slipping and facilitate control over the saw.

7. Operate at Full Throttle: Unlike vehicles, chainsaws aren’t safer when operated at slow speeds. Chainsaws are designed to run at full speed. So you want your workers to maintain full throttle settings while cutting not just for safety and productivity but to lessen fatigue.

8. Use Proper Cutting Techniques: Chainsaw injuries occur when workers lose control over the tool. To reduce risk, workers should:

  • Cut while standing slightly to the side, out of the plane of the cutting chain and guide bar;
  • Cut only while in a comfortable position;
  • Avoid overreaching or cutting above shoulder height; and
  • Keep all parts of their body away from the cutting chain when the engine is running.

9. Use Safe Carrying Techniques: When carrying the chainsaw, workers need to make sure the engine is stopped, the guide bar and cutting chain are to the rear and the muffler is away from their body. They need to always use the appropriate guide bar scabbard when transferring the chainsaw.

10. Avoid Overreaching: Caution workers not to operate a chainsaw while they’re in a tree or on a ladder. They need to be able to reach what they want to cut.

11. Beware of Push and Pull: Urge workers to beware of wood cut closing in and pinching the saw. The “push” force which is exerted when the top chain is pinched can add unexpectedly to any “pull” force the worker may use when attempting to pull the saw free. They may pull the moving chain into themselves.

12. Keep the Work Area Clear: Co-workers and by-standers need to keep a safe distance from workers while they’re operating chainsaws. and animals out of the work area at a safe distance.

13. Use Proper Fuelling Techniques: Caution workers to take the following measures when refuelling a gasoline-operated chainsaw:

  • Move the chainsaw at least 10 feet away from the fueling point before starting the engine;
  • Refrain from smoking while refuelling the saw; and
  • Use gasoline-powered chainsaws only in well ventilated areas.

14. Cut Wood Only: Chainsaws are made to cut only one thing: wood. They should not be used to cut other materials.

15. Avoid Contact with Rocks and Dirt: Tell workers to avoid letting the chain contact rocks or dirt during operation. Remind them that the chainsaw is moving in excess of 50 miles per hour and that just one second of contact with a rock or the ground, will impact each cutter more than 10 times.

How to Avoid Kickback

Kickback may occur when the moving chain at the nose or tip of the guide bar touches an object, or when the wood closes in and pinches the saw chain in the cut. Contact with the tip or bar nose can occur in some cases because a lightning-fast reverse reaction occurs, kicking the guide bar up and back toward the operator. Pinching the cutting chain along the top of the guide bar may also push the guide bar rapidly toward the operator. Either of these reactions may cause the worker to lose control of the saw.

To avoid the risk of kickback, tell workers to:

* Make sure that the area in which they’re cutting is free from obstructions;

*Not to let the nose of the guide bar contact a log, branch or any other obstruction; and

*Not to cut near chain link fences, wire fences, or in areas where there’s loose or scrap wire.