More and more people, especially those trying to achieve some measure of independence from the energy brokers, are discovering the usefulness of the modern lightweight chainsaw for outdoor tasks ranging from cutting fuel for the family woodstove to clearing woodland tangles for a new garden patch. But this valuable power tool can be — is — dangerous if not used properly and treated with informed respect. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, some 69,423 Americans were injured seriously enough in chainsaw accidents in 1982 to be treated in hospital emergency rooms. Of those seen in ER's, 2,221 were hurt badly enough to be admitted to the hospital ... and 139 were pronounced dead on arrival.
Alarming statistics? You bet. But worse yet is the fact that the majority of those mishaps and fatalities could easily have been prevented, since they were caused by lack of familiarity with the equipment or careless operation of it.
I have long been convinced that almost all accidents could be avoided if operators would adhere to a few commonsense chainsaw safety rules. And to help that conviction become a reality, I've drawn up a list of basic chainsawing Do's and Don'ts for woodcutters who, like me, have no intention of ever becoming accident statistics.
*When shopping for new chainsaws or accessories, consider those with built-in safety features such as automatic chain brakes, bar-tip guards, antikickback guide bars, antikickback chains, and hand guards.
*Read your owner's manual carefully, reviewing it before each woodcutting season to familiarize yourself with your saw and its proper and safe operation.
*Keep your chainsaw in perfect working order; a sharp chain and well-maintained saw make safe operation more certain.
*Adjust the chain tension frequently; a loose chain can fly off the guide bar.
*Make sure that observers and helpers stay clear of the work area. (Very young "helpers" are especially vulnerable to injury.)
*Keep bare hands away from a hot saw — especially the muffler.
*Be certain that the chain stops turning when the throttle is released. Over 15% of all injuries are due to chains that don't stop when they're supposed to. (You can probably correct this problem by adjusting the idle speed.)
*Be careful when fueling your saw. Allow the machine to cool before adding gasoline, and wait for a better time and place to have a smoke.
*Be cautious about shock when using electric chainsaws. Machines that aren't double-insulated must be used only with proper three-wire grounded extension cords and three-prong receptacles.
*Never carry a running saw. It takes only a moment to start it again when you reach your new working area.
*Never place a running saw on the ground and walk away from it.
*To avoid kickback, never allow the tip of the guide bar to contact anything.
*Never allow anyone to use a chainsaw who isn't familiar with its proper operation.
*Never work alone; if you're injured, you'll need help
*Don't fell large trees on a windy day.
*Never cut with your chainsaw held above waist height. You won't be able to control kickback.
*Never use a chainsaw when you're tired; fatigue can cause slowness and the sloppiness that often precede loss of control and accidents.
*Don't use a chainsaw (or any other machinery or tools, for that matter) if you've been drinking or have used any drugs that can cause drowsiness. One slip in concentration can lead to a trip to the emergency ward.
*Never start your chainsaw until you've donned the proper safe clothing: heavy leather gloves, heavy leather boots (preferably steel toed), long pants, long-sleeved shirt (with cuffs buttoned and tucked in), and eye and ear protection. Professional chainsawers further cut their risks by wearing a leather apron or chaps and a construction worker's hard hat (or one of the new helmet/ear and eye protection units).
*Never stand directly behind your saw. Rather, stand off to the left side so that if the bar kicks up it won't be directly in line with your chest and head.
*Don't allow your left elbow to bend while you're sawing; if your machine tries to kick up, you'll need all the straight-arm power you can muster in order to control it.
*Never allow legs or feet (yours or anyone else's) to get beneath what you're sawing.