Experts issue cautionary advice regarding chainsaws

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

More than 40,000 each year hospitalized for chainsaw-related accidents

As winter weather approaches and the demand for wood to heat homes rises, Barry County residents will be out cutting wood and trimming trees.

Homeowners who use chainsaws should use extreme caution to prevent injuries.

"In the hands of a careless, inexperienced or tired operator, a chainsaw can be very hazardous," said Bob Schultheis, southwest region natural resource engineering specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. "Injuries from a chainsaw are usually ragged and traumatic."

According to the U.S. Product Safety Commission, more than 40,000 people require hospital treatment each year for chainsaw-related accidents. To reduce risk of injury, experts offer several recommendations to stay safe.

First, select a saw that fits the need, is balanced and has safety features. Read the operating manual. Many manufacturers also provide video instruction. And, be aware of kickback, which can result in traumatic injury.

"One of biggest dangers in operating a chainsaw is kickback," Schultheis said. "Kickback occurs when the nose of the guide bar strikes another object. It can result in severe upper body, neck or facial injuries, or death. This contact may cause a lightning-fast reverse action of the guide bar back toward the operator."

While the smaller consumer chainsaws must come equipped with a low-kickback (or safety) chain when purchased, it is no guarantee that kickbacks will not occur, according to Schultheis.

"Remember, the chain on the saw is moving as fast as 55 miles per hour, or over 80 feet per second," Schultheis said. "You can't react quick enough to prevent injury."

Dan Buckner of Buck's Tree Service, who has been using a chainsaw to make a living for several years in Barry County, knows just how quickly an accident can happen.

"I got cut once on my arms," he said. "I was working in high winds in the top of a tree, and a gust of wind blew a branch, which hit my saw and caused my saw to hit me in the arm and I got 28 stitches.

"It made me pay attention in high winds. I won't cut in high winds anymore."

Buckner recommends using a sharp chainsaw over a dull one.

"A sharp chainsaw is safer than a dull one," he said. "When more dull, it's more likely to catch and kickback on you. And, one thing I always recommend is not to use a chainsaw by yourself, in case you do get hurt."

Ronnie Senseney, owner of Senseney Tree Service and Senseney Logging since 1980, who after 40 years of working with chainsaws in Barry County has been fortunate to have had only a minor scrape, nicking his knee after a saw kicked back and cut into his overalls.

"You have to respect them, because they have no conscious," he said. "The chainsaw itself is not dangerous if you hang onto the handle bar tightly and never saw above your head, because it can kickback. When I saw, I hang onto the handle like I'm going to squeeze it to death, especially with your left hand. You really want to grip it tight. Also if the chain is not sharpened right, it will kick that saw into your leg or any part of your body, and you just want to take every precaution."

Others he has known have not been so lucky.

Senseney recalled an older gentleman he knew of who was cutting a limb from a cherry tree, and the saw kicked back and hit him in the neck. The man bled to death within minutes.

"I grew up with it as a kid," he said. "My dad and brother were loggers. I try to teach my son, [as we're partners in our business], you have to have respect for the chainsaw because it will cut your leg off, arm, or head and won't feel any pain or remorse. It's just a machine, but if you use them right and don't get careless, you generally won't have problems. Otherwise, treat it like it's your worst enemy."

Schultheis cautions chainsaw users to be sure to match the length of the saw's guide bar to the type of job expected to do most often. And, do not attempt to cut material that is larger than the guide bar you choose. A guide bar 8-14 inches long is good for trimming limbs, cutting small logs and felling small trees. Mid-weight saws with 14-20-inch guide bars are used to cut logs and for felling small-to-medium-diameter trees. Heavyweight saws with guide bars longer than 20 inches are for professional use and are not recommended for consumers.

Landon Brattin of Brattin's Tree Service, who has been providing tree services in Barry County since 2005, offered recommendations, and warnings, for homeowners.

"Always know where the tip of your chainsaw bar is," he said. "High RPM entering the wood with the tip can result in serious kickbacks which can result in serious injury. Something I always tell my guys: chainsaws don't cut you, they remove material, and viciously.

"I have had lots of close calls over the years because of getting in a hurry. That is why our insurance is so high and we are considered one of the top 10 most-deadly jobs."

Brattin has been fortunate to avoid serious injury, but an employee had an accident when a saw sliced through his arm while in a bucket truck topping a tree, requiring 30 stitches.

Protective clothing, safety glasses, ear plugs, hard hats, and appropriate shoes and gloves are also recommended when operating a chainsaw, whether a professional or not.

Earplugs or shooter's muffs should also be used to provide protection from 90-plus decibel noise. Hard hats protect from falling limbs and flying debris. High-top shoes and gloves with slip-resistant palms are recommended.

"It's very important to wear chaps and safety goggles to keep from getting your leg cut," Buckner said.

Schultheis also recommends never operating a saw above shoulder level, and never drop-starting a saw. Instead, place the saw on level ground with the bar and chain up out of the dirt. Be sure the saw is held firmly on the ground when pulling the starting rope.

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