Chainsaw Safety

What equipment is required for chainsaw safety gear? Based on CSA Z62.1-15 (R2020), a chainsaw can be defined as a power-driven tool designed to cut wood with a saw chain […]

What equipment is required for chainsaw safety gear?

Based on CSA Z62.1-15 (R2020), a chainsaw can be defined as a power-driven tool designed to cut wood with a saw chain and consisting of an integrated compact unit of handles, power source, and cutting attachment, designed to be supported with two hands.

The Canadian Standard CSA Z62.1-15, Chainsaws, classifies Chainsaws in two different types, based on their power source, as follows:

Type 1 — fuel powered;

Type 2 — electrically powered.

Knowing the pros and cons of electric vs. a fuel chainsaw can help you to better determine which style is right for you.

Operators need to know how to use the safety features of chainsaws they operate. Most modern chainsaws are equipped with:

  • A chain brake and catcher,
  • Muffler,
  • Safety tip,
  • Rubber mounted handle arm,
  • Air cleaner,
  • Idle clutch adjustment.

Various government organizations in North America and worldwide have safety standards and regulations in place governing the use of chainsaws in various industries. Some of the most notable ones are:

  • OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.266 which covers safety for all logging operations;
  • NIOSH’s Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Logging from Felling to First Haul which outlines recommended safe work practices, personal protective equipment, and medical examinations for loggers;
  • CSA’s Standard Z62.1-15 (R2020).
  • ANSI standard B175.1-2000 (Gasoline Powered Chainsaws, Safety Requirements) describes safety requirements for the design of chainsaws and includes recommendations on how to use chainsaws safely.

Who needs chainsaw safety gear?

Chainsaws are one of the most dangerous hand tools anyone can buy in the open market. If used incorrectly, it can result in serious injuries to both the operator and the people nearby. Workers involved in logging operations such as felling, trimming, bucking and pruning trees using chainsaws require proper training and safety awareness.

eSafetyFirst Chainsaw Safety program has been developed in accordance with provincial legislation as safety training for workplaces across Canada. This course consists of 2 modules and tests. Once you pass all the tests, you may print your certificate of completion (wallet & wall-sized). Training may be paused or resumed at any time, is fully narrated, and includes interactive exercises to ensure understanding of course content.

What are the main hazards when working with a chainsaw?

According to the CSA Standard Z62.1-15, operating a chainsaw is associated with several physical hazards such as kickback forces, which can cause severe injuries to the head, face, neck and shoulders which are often disfiguring and sometimes fatal.

Kickback is the upward motion of the guide bar that occurs when the saw chain, at the nose of the guide bar, contacts an object. Kickback forces are created when you move the upper quadrant of the guide bar nose closer to the log to the point where they come in contact. The contact creates a rotational force on the saw opposite to the chain movement, thus the name, “kickback forces”. Kickback can lead to a dangerous loss of control of the chain saw.

Modern chainsaws are equipped with safety features against kickback forces such as:

  • Chain brakes, which can be activated to prevent yourself from being struck by the running chain.
  • Chain catchers, which helps prevent the chain from being thrown back towards you, should it break or derail during operation.
  • Safety tips are made up of a metal or plastic device that fits over the bar tip, preventing its contact with the log and creating kickback forces. It is particularly useful in pole pruning, trimming, and hedge laying.
  • Pushback forces are created when the chain on the top of the bar is pinched or comes in contact with a foreign object in the wood causing it to jam and suddenly stop. The reaction of the chain can drive the saw rapidly straight back towards you, causing you to lose control of the saw.
  • Pull-in forces can occur when the chain on the bottom of the bar suddenly stops when pinched or encounters a foreign object. The reaction of the chain pulls the saw forward and may cause you to lose control of it. To avoid pull-in forces, you need to make sure the chain is rotating at full speed before starting a cut and that the bumper spike is in contact with the wood.
  • Vibrations may be produced by the engine or the cutting process itself. The vibrations produced by the cutting process also called cutting vibrations, are produced when the chain’s cutters bite into wood fibers. An operator can adjust the settings of the saw chain to reduce this type of vibration when cutting logs. In the case of engine vibrations, there is very little that an operator can do to reduce them which is why many chainsaws have built-in handle arms that effectively absorb them.
  • Noise. Generally, exposure to high noise levels has a cumulative effect. The noise generated by chainsaws can cause significant hearing loss that may be permanent or temporary. Workers are often not aware of the permanent hearing damage they are subjecting their ears to until it is too late. Symptoms of hearing damage include ringing in the ears and deafness. Additionally, a hearing injury can become a safety hazard at work when it interferes with clear communication of warnings. Noise from the chainsaw can be reduced by a safety feature called a muffler. As its name suggests, it muffles the sound of the engine. A muffler can get very hot after continued use. Sometimes, it can get hot enough to ignite dry timbers. Its close proximity to the gasoline tank makes it even more of a fire hazard, especially in dry conditions. To prevent this particular hazard, many chainsaw manufacturers have equipped mufflers with spark arrestor screens. Check for this safety feature prior to use.
  • Flying debris such as sawdust and wood chips is another type of physical hazard associated with the use of chainsaws. This debris can blind and injure the eyes, making it harder for you to see the nose of the guide bar and the direction of cutting. The best way to protect yourself from this is by wearing proper protective equipment.
  • Fatigue.

As an operator, you need to look out for these hazards and be familiar with the various safety features of your chainsaw that protect you from them.

Because of the hazards previously mentioned, you need to make sure that you protect yourself adequately before going into the field to operate a chainsaw. Following personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used before and while working with a chainsaw.

  1. Head Protection: Head protection; such as hard hats and helmets protect you from the brunt of the impact of falling limbs and debris when cutting limbs or felling trees. CSA-approved hard hats are required to be worn by operators when operating a chainsaw. These hats must be worn with the brim forward and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. The 2 types of the main suspension on a Hard Hat are Rachette and Strap. They can both be adjusted, in order to ensure an ideal fit.
  2. Hearing Protection: Despite modern chainsaws being equipped with mufflers, there remains a risk of hearing loss due to the short distance between the saw and the body, the amount and type of noise, and the long duration that workers are exposed to it. This is why you need to wear appropriate hearing protection, such as earmuffs and earplugs, at all times when operating a chainsaw.
  3. Hand Protection: Hand protection; such as leather work gloves will help you keep a good grip on the chainsaw and protect your bare hands from minor cuts and abrasions during operation. Gloves with a padded palm will provide added protection against hand vibration and fatigue, which can result in multiple injuries such as Reynaud’s phenomenon, hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), and vibration-induced white finger (VWF).
  4. Face Protection: Face protection; Faceguards, helmets with attached face guards, metal-mesh face screens attached to hard hats, and CSA -approved safety glasses are some examples of the face protection you can wear.
  5. Eye Protection: The most basic of the Eye Protection Equipment, Safety Glasses, are used anytime there are even minor hazards for your eyes. Safety glasses should be shatterproof and can also have a level of tint to protect you from light ray damage. The level of tint may vary depending on the level of exposure expected. Safety Glasses with side shields can also help protect against flying debris from the side.
  6. Leg Protection: Leg protection; such as the special type of leg protection called chainsaw chaps or cut-resistant jeans when cutting or bucking trees. Chaps are made of strong and durable materials that jam the saw chain when it comes into contact with it. This will alert you and hopefully give you enough reaction time to stop the saw before it can bite into your flesh. You can choose to forego the chaps when working above the ground such as during cutting operations involving an aerial lift.
  7. Foot Protection: Wear heavy-duty foot protection such as leather work boots that go above the ankle and made of cut-resistant and water-proof materials. Steel-toed boots are especially recommended for all chainsaw operators. To be sure of your safety, look for the white label with the green fir tree symbol on the boots when buying a pair. Such boots are indicated for forestry workers and chainsaw operators.

Chainsaw Maintenance

All parts for any machine in use wear or become fatigued to the point where they cease to become effective. Normal machine vibration as well as friction from the act of cutting or ripping through wood fibers, put chainsaws under considerable tension, leading to wear of parts, misalignment, and maladjustments of components, fracture of metallic components, and loosening of bolts and screws. The preventive maintenance procedures start with three items.

Firstly the chainsaw operator must own and read the Chainsaw Manual. Even if the manual is kept in the office, there should be a copy in the field so that the operator can consult it as necessary.
Secondly, the operator or his assistant must have handed the basic tool kit provided with the new machine.
Thirdly, like any other machine user, the operator must get to know the machine well and to develop the habit of looking over and or listening to the machine; the operator must know when something does not ‘look right, ‘feel right’ or ‘sound right’; for example, oil leaks are usually an indicator that some component is malfunctioning.

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