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COLUMN: Chainsaw safety critical on the farm and at home

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By Bryce Roberts

A long winter with frequent bouts of ice and snow has not been kind to Spencer County trees, and we’ll probably be hearing the buzz of chainsaws with increasing frequency as things warm up and thaw out.
While chainsaws are a powerful tool, this characteristic also makes them very dangerous. Improper use can cause serious, sometimes fatal, injuries, so if you’re using a chainsaw, follow these three safety guidelines: know how your saw works and how to properly use it; wear personal protective equipment to protect your eyes, hearing, head, legs and feet and never work alone.
Buy a chainsaw you can comfortably handle and that is appropriate for the tasks you do most often.
Always read and follow instructions in the owner’s manual. Be sure all parts of your chainsaw are present and in good working order. Check the saw chain for proper tension and sharpness. Use a saw with a chain brake and low-kickback type of chain. Be sure the chain is well-lubricated and all safety devices, including the chain brake, are properly working.
Be sure to mix fuel in a can, not in the saw’s tank and keep the gasoline can at least 10 feet away from where you’re going to start the chainsaw.
Always start a chainsaw with the saw on the ground with one of your toes in the handle and one hand on the handle. Never hold the chainsaw in the air with one hand while pulling on the starting rope with the other.
Keep both hands on the chainsaw when cutting; always operate the saw below shoulder height; only operate a chainsaw up in a tree when you’ve received special training to do so, and engage the chain brake when starting and walking with the saw.
Many chainsaw injuries take place when the moving chain comes into contact with the operator, with kickback being the most common cause. Kickback takes place when the upper tip of the guide bar touches an object, or the chain gets pinched. This rapidly and uncontrollably throws the saw up and back towards the operator. Kickback can cause severe lacerations to the upper body, neck or face, and even death.
Remember to maintain a stiff left elbow to lessen the chance of the saw striking you in a kickback. When cutting logs from a tree, be sure to stand to the left side of the chain so any kickback will go over your shoulder.
Hand and arm injuries comprise 41 percent of total chainsaw injuries; legs, 39 percent; head and face injuries, 11 percent; feet, 6 percent and upper body, 3 percent.
You can significantly reduce chainsaw injuries or fatalities by wearing personal protective equipment. Wear cut-retardant chaps and cut-resistant boots to protect thighs, shins and feet; goggles not sunglasses to protect eyes; ear plugs to protect hearing; non-slip gloves to protect hands; and a hardhat and face screen to protect your head and face. One convenient way to protect your head, face and ears is to use a helmet system that combines hardhat, face screen and hearing protection.
Also, wear sturdy, snug fitting clothing that gives you complete freedom of movement. Avoid loose things that might catch in the moving chain including sleeve and pants cuffs, unfastened long hair or jewelry.
Never go out alone to operate a chainsaw. Another person can share the cutting tasks to prevent fatigue, a major cause of injuries in the woods, or go for help should an accident occur. Always take a first aid kit and keep it handy.
Remember, these safety features won’t replace proper training, safe operating practices and common sense, but they will reduce your risk of an injury.
Feel free to contact me at your Spencer County Cooperative Extension Service at 477-2217 or you can email me at broberts@uky.edu. You can visit the Spencer County Extension Services’ website at www.spencerextension.com.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.