As warm weather approaches, more and more people will be out in their yards using chainsaws.

As warm weather approaches, more and more people will be out in their yards using chainsaws. In this Q5, Ellen Duysen of the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health explains how a few simple practices can help keep this tool’s power under control.

How can people ensure that they are following the best chainsaw tips for safety?
Safety is especially important when using a chainsaw since this powerful tool can cause a serious injury much faster than a user can react. Reducing the risk of injury from a chainsaw is as simple as performing regular chainsaw maintenance, understanding common chainsaw hazards and always donning proper personal protection gear before starting a chainsaw.
Testing chainsaw safety features to ensure they’re working and ensuring the saw’s chain is sharp and under the appropriate tension during use are highly important chainsaw safety practices.
Many older chainsaws, which are often found in agricultural settings, don’t have modern safety features. Newer chainsaws have less noise as well as reduced vibration and injury hazards. One important safety feature of newer saws is the hand guard, which activates the saw’s chain brake in the event of a kickback.
This feature protects the user from being hit in the face and shoulder area by a fast-moving chain, which can cause life-threatening injuries. Newer chainsaw designs also reduce the likelihood of kickback and the chainsaw catcher pin prevents the chain from becoming a flying projectile.
No matter what type of chainsaw you’re using, all of these features should be checked to ensure they’re working before you start the chainsaw.

What are the major disadvantages of using older chainsaws?
Older chainsaws typically create noise levels from 95 to 115 dB. Even short work periods at these noise levels can cause hearing loss. Therefore, it should be standard practice to wear hearing protection every time a chainsaw is used, even newer models.
One major disadvantage of older chainsaws is the lack of an anti-vibration handle mount, which could lead over time to permanent nerve damage caused by hand-arm vibration in using the saw. Known as vibration white finger syndrome or hand-arm vibration syndrome, symptoms of the condition include numbness and tingling in hands and fingers as well as the tips of the fingers turning white, blue, swelling and throbbing. The condition is triggered by continuous use of hand-held vibrating machinery such as a chainsaw. If diagnosed in early stages, it can be treated.
If you use a chainsaw even for one hour, your hands and arms can be affected by the vibrations.
Anyone frequently using a chainsaw wants to make sure it features an anti-vibration system, isolating the handles from the vibrating machine.
Pay close attention to how your fingers feel when taking a break from the chainsaw. Tap your fingers lightly together or against a hard surface.
If you feel tingling, it’s a sign that you have been exposed to too much vibration.
Keeping chains sharp and under appropriate tension during use not only makes the chainsaw work much lighter but also reduces risk of injury.

Why is sharpening a chainsaw sometimes a difficult task?
Sharpening a chainsaw isn’t easy. If you do it yourself, I recommend using a bench grinder specifically designed to sharpen a chain. If you prefer, you can take it to a dealer or shop that has the equipment to do a good job. A sharp chain makes any kind of chainsaw job much easier.
Chains can easily be dulled if they come in contact with a nail, rock or hard surface during use.
Depending on the nature of the contact, the chain may immediately be dulled, requiring replacement. Maintaining extra chains can be a beneficial practice.
Sharpening the chain teeth requires understanding how the teeth work.
When filing or grinding the cutter portion of the tooth, it’s important to keep the angles right and remove the same amount of metal from each tooth.
As the chain wears down with each sharpening, it’s also important to just slightly grind down the smaller depth-gauge tooth in front of the cutter. Taking off too much will cause the saw to cut too aggressively, increasing the chance for chainsaw kickback.
Newer saws have kickback protection, so that isn’t as much of a safety issue as it used to be.
But when you’re using the saw, be careful with the top end corner of the bar so you don’t accidentally or purposely cause a kickback.
Touching any surface with the top end of the bar  – the kickback/danger zone – can result in kickback, potentially causing serious injury. Any time the saw is operating, the area should not be touched.

What is tensioning and why is it important to keep a chain tensioned?
Keeping your chain tensioned is another critical safety practice. It’s normal for a chainsaw chain to stretch as you use it.
Depending on what type of work you’re doing with the saw, it’s good to check the chain tension after 30 or 60 minutes of use and every time you add fuel and chain oil.
Any time the chain on a chainsaw hangs low enough that a finger easily fits in the gap between the chain and the bar, it’s too loose.
Most chainsaws come with a special wrench for tightening the chain and the spark plug.
You should always have that with you on the worksite in a closed pocket or somewhere close at hand.
Make sure you don’t lose it, or that can be the end of the workday if the chain comes off the bar and you can’t put it back on.
It’s important to read your manufacturer’s instructions for tightening the chain so you achieve the right tension.

What are some of the hazards that can come with using a chainsaw?
On the worksite, numerous hazards can increase potential for injury, including limbs on standing or downed trees, and obstacles that can cause slips, trips and falls.
Using the chainsaw at elevated heights above your head or using equipment such as a loader bucket to elevate workers, etc., is very hazardous.
Climbing up into a tree with a chainsaw is extremely dangerous.
Working with a chainsaw on bigger trees is at least a two-person job. If you need to work on the tops of trees, it’s best to use a boom lift.
We highly discourage farmers from using a loader bucket that someone is managing for them when they work on trees.
In that situation, there are great risks of slipping on the metal of the bucket and you’re trusting that person in the tractor to do everything just right while you’re using the chainsaw.
Limbing trees is most safely completed once the tree is on the ground.
Start at the ends of the limbs, chopping firewood-length pieces and working toward the trunk.
This way there’s more room to work and each cut is not shifting the tree’s weight or balance, causing a sudden movement that can throw the chainsaw operator off balance while the chainsaw is running.
Limbing trees is always a hazardous activity.
Before each cut, make sure you have sure footing.
Whatever type of work is done with a chainsaw, users should have all the appropriate personal protective gear, including head protection, eye and face protection, hearing protection, gloves and mitts, leg and foot protection.
All gear should carry a CSA/UL approved label, which means the equipment has withstood rigorous testing to ensure it can protect the user when necessary.
Important features of chainsaw helmet sets include the product’s safety rating, whether or not it includes hearing protection and a face guard.
Make sure it actually fits your head, even though it’s adjustable.
Special foot protection for chainsaw users includes boots with steel toes and cut-resistant pads on the front side and other safety features.
There are many types of chainsaw safety boots – rubber, leather, synthetic materials – with these features made for different types of use.
The boots and helmet set are the most important parts of this equipment.
The trousers or coveralls with cut-resistant inlays add protection in case the chain hits the leg above the area protected by the boots.
Wearing the right boots is critical because it’s so easy to cut into your boot with a chainsaw, especially if you’re cutting firewood or anything that brings the saw close to your feet.
Any cut to your feet or legs will quickly become a serious situation.
– Rimsie McConiga