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Safe chainsaw operation

April 22, 2009
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Chainsaws were once tools used only by professional lumberjacks. But today, they are widely used by farmers and homeowners, as well. They sure are useful. In fact, it's hard to think of a more efficient, time-saving power tool. But a chainsaw in the hands of an inexperienced, unconcerned operator can very suddenly become lethal.

I don't know how often I've seen it. A recent storm has taken down a couple of limbs or a tree or a few trees in a friend or neighbor's yard or driveway. He's out there with a brand spankin' new chainsaw. A beauty! And he can't wait to use it. He fires it up. It roars! And there he stands, with his brand new toy in hand, right smack dab in the middle of an intertwining tangled mess of limbs, leaves and spring poles, wearing nothing but a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers or sandals, ready to have at it without a care in the world. Has he taken a chance to really consider the task at hand? Probably not.

Chainsaws certainly are remarkable tools. They're commanding enough to make relatively quick and easy work of felling trees, cutting firewood, or removing downed limbs and fallen or uprooted trees. In fact, they're powerful enough to cut through just about any reasonable size tree in mere seconds. And, although I wouldn't think that you would have to be too awfully bright to recognize that it's actually very dangerous to be working with a piece of equipment that rips across lengths of solid hardwood in seconds, especially when you're standing amid or upon a jumble of bent and broken limbs, some of which are embedded in the ground from impact, there are, evidently, plenty of carefree, green (or comparatively green) operators out there that really don't get it. Even the most experienced operators make mistakes. And if the pros can mess up, obviously less experienced chainsaw users can too.

Interestingly enough, even though the chainsaw inflicts the injury, it is the environment that is the primary cause of most chainsaw related accidents. Loss of balance, for example, may result in a badly cut leg, arm, hand or torso, even though the accident itself is the result of the operator becoming tangled up in brush or fatigued, or perhaps the result of a combination of the two.

The whip of a bent limb or small tree as it is cut can slap the operator with enough force to cause him to lose control of his saw, as can being hit by a falling, dead limb, even a small one. In fact, anything that startles or distracts the operator can cause him to momentarily let down his guard, resulting in physical contact with the moving chain or some other form of serious accident.

Approximately one out of every twelve forestry-work accidents is caused by chainsaw kickback, which occurs when the teeth on the saw chain catch on something as they rotate around the tip of the blade in a way that causes the blade to be thrown back violently toward the operator. Thirty-six percent of chainsaw accidents result in injuries to the legs and knees. Hospitals report an average of somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 chainsaw-related injuries and deaths annually, almost all of them preventable. And that figure doesn't include all of the injuries that go unreported. What's more, mishaps resulting in someone being cut by a moving saw chain account for only about one in three woods-related accidents. Many forestry related deaths and injuries result from trees or branches falling on wood cutters using chainsaws.

Some general safety precautions for chainsaw use include:

You know, I've been using chainsaws seasonally now for more than 30 years and I still welcome every opportunity I get to receive instruction on proper chainsaw use, maintenance and safety. So I'm especially pleased to be able to announce that Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, in cooperation with Paul Smith's College and Franklin County One WorkSource, is offering level one of a four level curriculum, the Game of Logging. Developed by Soren Eriksson, a Swedish logger turned training instructor, the Game of Logging is a world-recognized chain saw skills training course focusing on safe, efficient, and precise tree removal.

Date: Saturday, May 9

Time: 8:30 a.m.

Location: Paul Smith's College

Cost: $105 (Employees of companies involved in tree removal and / or logging in Franklin County may be eligible for reimbursement of the registration fees. Contact Cornell Cooperative Extension for more information.)

Registration/Information: Call Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County at 518-483-7403.

Because the Game of Logging approach is so unique, the program is appropriate for a wide range of chainsaw users and skill levels - landowners, public employees, foresters, conservation groups and loggers. The course is designed so novices can learn how to develop safe and productive chainsaw operating conduct right from the start, while experienced and professional chain saw users learn to uncover and replace their bad habits and unsafe operating techniques with improved behaviors and operating skills.

Level one focuses on introducing participants to open face felling and the development of techniques to safely use it.

Level one training includes using and maintaining personal protective and safety equipment, safety features of the saw, how to hold and handle a saw safely to reduce fatigue, routine saw maintenance, chain sharpening, spring poles and the reactive forces of a running chainsaw. Participants willlearn proper notching and bore cutting techniques, the mechanics and physics of hinge wood, a five point directional felling plan and how to identify the lean in a tree, and they will be engaged in supervised felling practice.



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