Lessons in Chain Saw Safety

A Chainsaw Commands the utmost in Respect and Safety Precautions/strong>

By Mark J. Donovan

Yesterday I purchased a new Stihl MS290 Farm Boss chain saw. As I read through the manual I was impressed by the fact that the first 15 pages focused on chain saw safety and warning messages. Of all the tools I have ever used, a chain saw commands my highest respect. It is an extremely useful tool, however it is also a dangerous tool if it is not properly used or given the utmost in attention while operating it.

As I turned through the pages of the Stihl chain saw operator’s manual, I was reminded of the lessons I learned in chain saw safety back on a warm summer day in 1976. I was only a young teenager then.

It was also the country’s bicentennial anniversary that year, and the week before I had been sitting on the mall in Washington DC watching the fireworks display.

On this particular day, however, I was helping my father and mother clear a parcel of land. We had driven up from Maryland to New Hampshire the week after that 4th of July to clear a building lot for a new home we were building. I remember my aunt and uncle, as well a couple of cousins helping us out that day to clear the lot.

The lot was heavily treed and we had three people operating chain saws. All were experienced using chain saws, but we were trying to move fast to clear the lot. While my father, aunt and uncle used the chain saws, my mother, cousins and I were clearing the limbs from the fallen trees and stacking them in preparation for a brush fire.

The first incident that day in chain saw safety occurred at about 10:00 am, and I had the unfortunate opportunity to see it unfold before my eyes. My aunt was cutting a small sapling birch tree that probably stood 25 feet high, if it had been standing vertical. Instead, however the top of the tree had been bowed over by another tree that had been recently felled. My aunt was cutting the base of the tree when all of a sudden it split at the base and part of the tree shot up and hit her smack in the forehead. It sent her flying backwards about 10 feet with the chain saw flying out of her hands. When I got to her she was conscious but she was pale as a ghost and had a knot the size of an egg forming on her forward.

Fortunately she was okay, but watching the situation unfold in front of me was quite frightening. I learned from this experience several things in chain saw safety. First, never cut a tree that appears to be locked and loaded. This tree had been bent over by another fallen tree. It was potential energy ready to transition to kinetic energy as soon as it was given the chance, and my aunt had provided just that chance by cutting the base of the tree. She should have never cut that tree while another tree was holding it down.

In addition, she should have never stood directly over the tree in the direction she anticipated it releasing its energy. She should have stood to the side of it and only after the other tree had been de-limbed and the pressure relieved from it.

The next lesson I learned in chain saw safety that day involved my mother. I was in the process of getting some chain saw oil up at our car when all of a sudden I heard a large oak tree come crashing down followed by the scream of my mother. My aunt and mother had been standing near the trunk of the tree as my father sawed through it with the chain saw. Unfortunately when the tree began to fall, it twisted a little and did not fall in the exact direction my father had planned.

In my mother’s attempt to move out of the tree’s falling path, she tripped and fell over another large tree that had been recently felled. Unfortunately the large oak tree came down on top of her and pinned her leg at the thigh, in between the other fallen tree.

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When I got to the accident my aunt was trying to desperately lift the base of the tree off of my mother, as she laid there screaming and writhing to slide her pinned leg out from under the tree. At the same time my father was desperately trying to get the chain saw started to cut through the fallen tree to remove the bulk of the weight from my mother’s leg. Seeing my mother lying there in agony I rushed to my aunt’s side and attempted to help her lift the trunk of the tree off of her. The trunk had to be at least 12 inches in diameter. Our first attempt together to lift the tree produced no results. However, on our second attempt, and to this day I don’t know how we did it, we were able to lift the trunk of the tree a few inches. While we held the tree up my father was able to pull my mother out from under the tree.

Once we had my mother out from under the fallen tree we examined her leg and saw that it was heavily bruised, but not broken. She too had been very fortunate that day as well. It could have ended up much worse.

Again, I learned a few other lessons that day in chain saw safety. First, never cut a tree down that is surrounded by other fallen trees and tree limbs. The escape area should be free and clear of anything that could obstruct you from making a quick exit from a falling tree. Second, only have the person using the chain saw in the area of the tree that is being cut down. And third, even if you know what you are doing, a tree may not always fall where you plan. Wind and other hidden factors in the tree could cause it to twist and fall in a direction that you were not planning.

Besides these lessons learned in chain saw safety, there are many other safety precautions that should be understood before operating a chain saw. If you have not used a chain saw before, I urge you to read the operators manual carefully and possibly have someone show you how to use it. In particular fully understand the risks and safety precautions for avoiding chain saw kickbacks.

So today I plan on using my new chain saw, but I do so with the utmost in respect and caution. A chain saw is a useful tool, but it is also one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment you will ever operate, so take care and pay close attention when using yours.

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