I was working on a slashing crew for ATCO Power in the Swan Hills, Alberta, area cutting trees and shrubs along their 140KwH transmission lines when a crew member carelessly cut a tree that fell back onto the line. The result was intense. Instantly, I heard a load, roaring whooooshhh travel across the line. (I assume that was electricity being grounded to the point where the tree made contact). Seconds later, a large blast like a stick of dynamite or .44 Magnum going off near my ears sounded. That was the sound of transmission fuses blowing.

When you're in the danger zone like I was, things can get serious really fast. I was wearing approved safety boots for the job, made of high-grade rubber, but I felt some tingling in my toes, and instantly jumped onto a downed log in case the electricity was traveling through the snow pack. I back-pedaled on this log and other debris until I was 300 yards away, and clear of danger. My knowledge of safety saved my life.

Chainsaw Safety

In most outdoor occupations in North America, workers may be presented with the duty of operating a chainsaw or power saw to cut wood, fell a tree, or clear a path. Because many people know the basics of how to run a chainsaw, they are willing to step up and operate one. That's not always a safe move, because there are many safety precautions that should be taken into consideration when operating a power saw that novice users ignore, or are not aware of.

Chainsaw operators are classified as a full-time occupation, which means that they get safety certified. No one should take safety for granted when using a chainsaw, but those who use one as a secondary tool in their jobs may need to be especially careful.

Here we'll take a look at some basic chainsaw safety measures.

Safe Operating Procedure

First things first: Never cut with a chainsaw above your head, or put the tip at more than a 45-degree angle; this can greatly increase the chance for kick-back. Read your instruction manual and warnings before operation and wear the appropriate safety gear (which we'll cover in detail next). It may take five or 10 minutes to get dressed for safety, but it only takes a second for a chain going at 3,500 RPM to shred you to bits. Take the time and save yourself the horrifying, horror-movie aftermath. If you do not know how to operate a chainsaw competently and confidently, ask for instructions or training.

Safety Gear

There is some basic safety gear that should be used to improve chainsaw safety.

  • Boots with steel toes
  • Safety glasses: These should be worn to prevent wood chips and other flying debris from hitting you in the eye.
  • Hard hat (side impact) with chainsaw visor: The hard hat with a visor is a mandatory safety item because it can prevent tree limbs and branches from hitting you in the face, as well as prevent damage from a kick-back. This can save your life.
  • Chainsaw chaps or chainsaw pants: Chainsaw chaps are clip-on overpants that are equipped with webbing to clog the chainsaw's chain against the bearing and stop its motion (and stop it from removing your leg). They are not as effective as chainsaw pants, which have greater wraparound protection.
  • Reflective vest: Should be worn when in the company of other workers on the work site so they can see you better and prevent accidents.
  • Ear muffs or hearing protection: A chainsaw produces about 110 decibels of sound. According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), exposure to sound at that level for more than one minute at a time can lead to permanent deafness. In other words, always user ear protectors when using a chainsaw.
Learn more about protective gear in 6 PPE Guidelines Every Employee Should Know.

Location Concerns

Operating a chainsaw can become a doubly dangerous job. Not only are you working with a potentially hazardous tool, but there are other elements. There may be high-voltage electricity to contend with - not to mention a falling tree. As a general rule, you should always put a rope around the tree and secure it so it cannot fall backwards onto a line or towards any other dangerous location. The rope should be strong, unfrayed and have at least 150 foot-pounds of pressure on it to help guide the tree away from the line.

Operating in deep snow also poses some serious danger because it can reduce your field of view. Since the most dangerous point on the chainsaw is the tip, and this is the area that is usually engulfed in snow and out of view, it is absolutely necessary to have a strong command of tip guidance. If your chainsaw tip dips under the snow and contacts a power cord, power line, your foot, or something that causes it to kick back, you could be in serious trouble. To prevent this, clear away the snow and ID any hazards such as loose objects, hard objects, or objects that you should not come into contact with. Once you have cleared your area, you can work safely without being hampered by the snow. Clearing the area should include clearing it of other people too.

Chainsaws are very dangerous tools that require the utmost respect and attention to safety every time and no matter how often you use one. According to Elvex, there are more than 30,000 chainsaw accidents in the United States each year. There's a reason why chainsaws figure so prominently in horror movies: The results aren't pretty. Stay safe!