Chainsaw safety part 1

Disclaimer, first and foremost if you are using a chainsaw it is your responsibility to learn how to use it safely, nothing that you read or see on the internet will every be able to replace hands on professional training in the safe use of a chainsaw. The following post describes how I approach using a chainsaw, it is not intended to be a tutorial and should not be taken to be a tutorial, you operate your chainsaw how you wish, this is how I do it.

Accidents involving chainsaws can be horrific, do not under estimate the risks, bodily injury can come from contact with the chainsaw and or falling objects, high force impact such as rapid release of the restrained forces involved with a windblown tree or rolling of logs, the list is almost endless.

Even a minor cut from a chainsaw chain presents risk of infection from oil and bacteria, with a major chainsaw chain injury causing anything from massive bleeding to amputation through to almost instant death if the saw kicks back and catches the neck etc.

Regardless of a small chainsaw through to the biggest they make, I treat every chainsaw with the respect it deserves.

Personal protective equipment - I never operate a chainsaw unless I am wearing the following:-

  1. Chainsaw trousers, I use class C safety rating 3.

Chainsaw trousers are usually either class A which offer protection to the front of the legs, or class c which offer full protection to the front and the rear of the legs. With the safety rating being the chainsaw chain speed the trousers are rated to protect against, class 3 offering protection against chains travelling at up to 28 Meters per second. Chainsaw trousers are specialist personal protection equipment with the trousers being lined internally with what I would describe as a string like material that is designed to clog the saw if it comes into contact with the trousers, it stops the saw in the blink of an eye, but remember professional saws are moving at upwards of 20 plus meters per second - just think about that please, picture 20 / 28 meters in length of chainsaw chain, then blink and it’s all gone past, over or through.

There are lots of different brands of chainsaw trousers, some more flexible than others, some lighter for climbers (I do not do aerial work) and some that are worn over normal trousers like a cowboys chaps.

I wear trousers, I use an expensive brand, they cost 250 pounds a pair, chainsaw trousers are not designed to be washed after each day, horrible as it sounds, they are worn each day until they become dirty and oil stained enough to warrant washing. I wash each part of my chainsaw clothing on its own and I air dry them out of the sun, I own two pairs and rotate them, I repair them with the manufacturers supplied repair patches if I get them snagged up on thorns etc and tear the top covering.

When I put my chainsaw trousers on, I know that day will be different, they help to remind me that it’s a different type of work.

  1. Chainsaw boots, I always wear chainsaw boots, I would never even consider starting a chainsaw (that had a chain attached) unless I was wearing chainsaw boots and chainsaw trousers. Chainsaw boots also come in different classes, I use class 1 offering protection of chain speeds up to 20 meters per second. Chainsaw boots offer toe protection, some are steel some are composite all are rated to 1.5 ton min lay weight on the toe. Mine are steel toe and they cost 80 pounds a pair, I have two pairs and I rotate them every day.

Chainsaw boots lace up high up the calf and can be the difference between just a damaged pair of boots or a life changing injury or worse, chainsaw boots have a similar design to chainsaw trousers with material under the surface designed to block and stop a chainsaw chain if it come into contact with it.

  1. Upper body clothes, I just wear a tee shirt, in winter maybe a fleece over a tee shirt, but it doesn’t take long using a chainsaw and that fleece is coming off. There are chainsaw jackets available, made from the same material at the trousers, but I have never heard of anyone using them, they are simply too hot to work in.

  2. Chainsaw gloves - I do not use chainsaw gloves, I use bare hands. I used to use chainsaw gloves, and it is a legal requirement in the UK to use chainsaw gloves, so if you are going to undertake professional training there or undergo certification tests in the UK, then you are required to wear gloves of a certain standard, check with the course provider. I used gloves on testing and certification I did in the UK. In France working for the Office of National Forests (ONF) in the Ardennes forest the governing body has given dispensation to not wearing gloves due to the moss and gunk that builds up almost straight away when you start cutting and it becomes dangerously slippery to use gloves, I can see both side of using gloves and not using gloves, the main danger with not using gloves is your left hand slipping from the front handle and potentially contact with the chain. But my personal view now is that slippery gloves are more of a risk. So I do not wear gloves.

  3. Head, eye and hearing protection - I always wear a helmet and face shield and hearing protection that is designed and certified for chainsaw use, the risk of something being spat out of the saw and hitting me in the eye is too great a risk not to wear face protection. I generally do not wear safety glasses under the face shield, but it’s automatic for me to drop the face shield before I start cutting. Hearing protection is a must for me, I use Stihl saws and they scream, the noise would not only deafen you quickly, but it would drive you insane to the point of not thinking straight. Head protection from falling objects is a possibility so helmet it is.

I have fitted a two way device to my equipment and to two spare helmets, so that if I am working with someone else, say they are driving a tractor or operating a chipper, we can talk easily, without background noise, the system I use allows two way talking and listening between up to 4 people, no need to push and release a button, the mics are open all the time. It makes life much safer for me.

  1. First aid kit - I have a felling belt, which holds felling wedges, lifting tongs, tape, knife, t-bar for adjusting the chain and a first aid kit, the first aid kit is a one handed opening kit from either hand, its water proof and in it I have an Israeli army field dressing bandage (supposed to be the best) one celox gauze hemostatic wound dressing, designed to clog and stop major cuts and wounds and I have a US army tourniquet, that’s it, that’s my belt first aid kit, the belt kit is only there for major injury, its available to me or others that come across me in the event of something going wrong, and could save my life in the remote locations I work.

  2. Mentally in the right place - If I am tired, I stop using the chainsaw. Some people may be too tired to properly operate a chainsaw and move their feet into the correct place etc after 4 hours of use, some maybe only 10 mins. But, I never use my saws when I know I am too tired to operate them correctly, nothing is so important that it cannot wait.

So now I am ready to go to the shed and sort my saws out and get ready to use them, I will detail how I do that in my next post - chainsaw safety part 2, I will try and take some photos tomorrow and include them in the post.

Remember, you wear whatever you want, that’s up to you, this is only a post explaining what I wear EVERY-TIME I use a chainsaw and why.

If you have got down this far, thanks for reading.

Henri

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Excellent advice throughout - thank you…

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I did buy some Husqvarna chainsaw gloves - they are quite simply the most comfortable pair of gloves I own - I am tempted to buy more for when not chainsawing!

Great info thank you.

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Thank you Henri.

Hello Mat, I agree, husky make some great gear, soft and supple, really nice to wear.

I managed to blag a pair when I bought my big husky saw, just about worn them out now so back to normal work gloves ( I always wear gloves but not ear defenders). A roll of gaffer tape with the end exposed is a good alternative for an emergency first-aid kit.

I have edited my original post a few times already, not for grammar errors but because I had forgotten small details, for example I just added that I always carry my t-bar tool on my felling belt. T-bar tools being used to adjust the chain tension, remove spark plug and on my saws to also allow removal of the top section of the saw so I can access the air filter.

When I talked over the idea of writing articles on how we have tackled issues with our land and forest in France with my wife, she wanted to know how I would find the time to write them and what did I want from doing it. At first I said it would be nice to give something back, people had helped us and maybe our experience could help others. She agreed, but I then went on to explain that it would also help me, it would help me because I would have to think through every part of what I typed, I would have to re-check was that how I did things? I would have to try and visualise my methods and approach and then convert that into words that would make sense.

One of the issues we face when we work on our own land is that usually we are working in very small numbers, and it’s possible that the person or people that we are working with do not fully know all the procedures and tricks we use - this leaves us in the position of everyday we have to be our own worker, safety officer, supervisor and environmental officer.

Do not under estimate this when contemplating land and forestry work in France.

If you absentmindedly cut some timber wrong for a shed build, then you have possibly just wasted some timber. But, if you absentmindedly cut too deep into the hinge of a felling cut or cut it too low, then you risk a catastrophe.

So in writing these articles I hope to not only make sure that anyone reading them is left in no doubt as to the potential problems with forestry and land management, but I hope to also refresh myself on how I assess and manage the risks.

Regarding the use of gloves when chainsawing, I probably didn’t make it clear that when I pick up a chainsaw it is generally to use it all day long, felling, clearing, snedding, cross cutting and in between would be moving brush into a chipper, so for me gloves tend to get very slippery, very quickly and I find it more dangerous to saw with, than without.

But… If I were using the saw for short periods of time, if the work was relatively clean and all I was doing was sawing, and then when the sawing was finished I could take the gloves off and use normal work gloves or bare hands to move the brush and logs - well then I would probably use chainsaw gloves.

The use of gloves is always going to be a grey area for me where the law allows, in the UK in professional use, you have no choice if you want to comply with the HSE.

There may well be many people that read my views on chainsaw safety and disagree with them, they may well feel its safe for them to saw in wellies and jeans and sunnies. The chap on the farm up the road does, he laughs when he drives past and I am felling. That’s his prerogative, we are good friends, we just see safety in a different way. I was professionally trained and am well experienced on professional large tree and problem tree forest felling sites. He was taught by his dad, who was taught by his dad - his way works for him - my way works for me, your way should work for you.

I hope what I write helps - it’s not a contest

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Problem is with wearing wellies, apart from offering bugger all penetrative protection, is that they fill up with saw chippings.

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I had a rare incident when the chain snapped mid cut and whizzed past my left ear. Wearing my chainsaw hat I was safe but just to highlight how important safety equipment is.
Great article.

This is a brilliant article Henri. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

I tend to wear very lightweight breathable gloves but with very ‘grippy’ rubberised grips.

Hi John, I have a phobia over where a snapped chain will lash out so always try to position my body and head some way to the left of the line of cut (right-handed - come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a left-handed saw) but think I’ll invest in a proper helmet as it’d be easier than safety glasses and ear-defenders that always seem to get in each others way.

Have to confess that I haven’t worn my Husky trousers since I had to cut some wood in them when it was 40C and the shorts I had on underneath could be wrung out. I bought these for my Dad and he passed them back when no longer did any cutting so I do feel morally obliged to put them to us.
It’s easier to resolve a bit of sweat than have to re-grow a leg.

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It is a very rare occurrence, I’ve never had one break in 45 years, but if it was to sbap, the direction of travel of the chain would likely be downward.

Pole pruning chainsaw.

Hi Mark

I also have never had a chain break. I have however witnessed two trainee operators break a chain each.

They were not under my supervision, they were off doing their own thing with the felling boss, each occasion the saws were being twisted out of shape in the felling cut, cutting very large Charme (Hornbeam in English) trees, I can only assume that the chain was too loose and the extreme angle of the bar being twisted cause the chain to come out of the guide and twist and snap.

Both times the chain did not go near the hands, it happens fast, like lightning fast, on the first occasion I saw it happen the chain embedded in the felling cut and was trapped in the cut, coming completely off the saw. And the second time the chain flung itself under the saw and the chain guard and rear handle guard did its thing and the chain ended up wrapped around the sprocket.

In both cases, it would appear to be extreme operator error that caused the chain to break.

You may well ask why the felling boss didn’t stop the operators before the break? I can only assume that people have a different way of teaching, it is not my way, to watch a trainee make such errors, but I would also like to think that both of these people would remember their chain breaking for ever, or I hope so.

Yes, you would hope so. A large dose of common sense is also an absolute necessary, as is confidence in what you’re doing