Forestry & Wildlife
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Fallen trees and other debris from storms can require the use of power tools, like chainsaws, to clean up. Amid hurricane season with tornado season on the horizon, chainsaws can be very useful in case of disaster. While chainsaws are helpful tools, they can also be extremely dangerous if not used properly.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 36,000 chainsaw-associated injuries occur every year in the United States,” said Alabama Extension agent Bence Carter. “In Alabama alone, state agencies have reported more than 70 chainsaw-related incidents over the past five years.”
Personal protective equipment (PPE) worn while operating a chainsaw helps to protect areas of the body and significantly reduce the chances of severe injury.
“The left leg, specifically upper thigh area, and the back of the left hand are the areas most prone to injury,” Carter said.
Essential PPE for chainsaw operation includes a hard hat, cut-resistant safety chaps, foot protection, eye and hearing protection.
Not only do those using the chainsaw need to wear PPE, but even those observing should wear PPE.
“A hard hat protects the head from falling debris, such as limbs and branches, and from injury due to hits against low-hanging objects,” Carter said.
When choosing a hard hat, check for these three components: a shell, suspension and chin strap. These three components must be functioning properly, free of defects and worn properly by the user.
Always inspect hard hats before each use. Push in on the exterior sides to test the elasticity of the hard hat. It should compress inward and quickly expand to its original form.
Signs that the hard hat needs replacing include a faded or chalky appearance of the exterior, cracks, or cracking noises when testing its elasticity. Unless they’re damaged, hard hats should be replaced five years after the manufacture date.
Wearing the hard hat correctly is just as important as its inspection. Place the hard hat squarely on the top of the head. Make sure to keep the space open between the hard hat shell and the suspension.
Lastly, utilize all three components of the hard hat, especially the chin strap. “Chin straps help secure the hard hat to your head in situations where you are leaning over, in high winds or in an elevated area.
Leg protection is essential when operating a chainsaw. Cut-resistant safety chaps, or chainsaw chaps, are the most common form of leg protection.
“Chainsaw safety chaps are composed of a rough exterior layer and an interior layer composed of long strands of nylon, polyester, Avertic or Kevlar that extend the length of the chap,” Carter said. “When a moving chain comes into contact with the chaps, it easily cuts the exterior layer while the inner strands pull out and tangle the drive sprocket.”
Chaps should fit snugly with all straps connected, not just the hip strap. Without securing all straps, the moving chain could potentially pull the chaps off, exposing the leg. They should extend down to the top of your foot.
Always wear boots with high ankle support, while steel or safety-toed features are strongly suggested. “Many cutting situations involve risk to feet and ankles, whether from missing the target or stumbling,” Carter said.
Eye and Ear Protection
Two acceptable forms of hearing protection are earplugs and earmuffs. To be effective, both must be worn properly. Earplugs should fit snuggly inside the ear canal. Pull up on the top of the ear to straighten the ear canal and insert the plug.
Earmuffs are designed to fit snuggly over the entire ear. To maximize hearing protection, they must cover the ears and fit snuggly against the head.
Safety glasses or goggles will provide the greatest level of eye protection, and are required for operation. Some hardhats may be equipped with a plastic or mesh face shield, but these do not provide an adequate level of protection from flying debris.
Although not required, gloves are recommended when operating a chainsaw. This will help to prevent hands from abrasions, cuts and burns. Gloves are necessary when performing maintenance on the saw, like changing or sharpening a chain.
For more information about chainsaw safety, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu. Learn more about chainsaw safety specifically in the Alabama Extension publication, Chainsaw Safety: Personal Protective Equipment.