12 September 1997

Reduce chainsaw dangers training

By Mike Williams

MUCH of the equipment routinely used on farms is potentially dangerous, but chainsaws are in a league of their own for the gruesome injuries they can easily cause.

Good protective clothing has an important part to play in reducing the risk of injury to the operator, but it should not be regarded as the first line of defence, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

The first priorities are to make sure the operator is properly trained and the chainsaw is correctly maintained and in good working order.

With any safety clothing – or personal protective equipment as the HSE prefers to call it – the objective is to cover the main risks to the operator. For those working with chainsaws, the risk assessment starts at the sharp end.

Most chainsaw injuries are caused by the chain, and an analysis of accident records shows that most of the cuts are to the feet, both legs – but particularly the front of the left leg, plus the hands and head.

Regulations say these are the parts of the body which must be protected when using a chainsaw.

In short, this means wearing either boots with steel toe caps plus protective gaiters or proper forestry boots, trousers or leggings made specifically to guard the legs of chainsaw operators, special gloves or mittens with extra built-in protection for the vulnerable left hand, plus an approved helmet.

The full list does not end there however. For some types of chainsaw work operators are advised to wear special clothing to help protect the upper body area including the arms. These should be close fitting and preferably finished in a high visibility colour.

Apart from injuries caused by the chain there are other potential health and safety hazards in chainsaw operation.

Noise produced by the engine and the cutting action of the chain is sufficient to cause hearing damage, so ear defenders must be worn when the saw is working. They are often built in to the safety helmet.

There is also the risk of facial damage caused by flying debris from the cutting chain, and most helmets designed for chainsaw operators have a built-in visor which protects the eyes and part of the face as well.

Another potential hazard is injury from falling branches or other objects, and helmets designed for chainsaw operators include a high level of impact protection.

Wearing special clothing to protect at least the feet, legs, hands and head is not just a good idea, it is also a legal requirement says Allan Spence, an HSE inspector based at the NAC, Stoneleigh, Warwicks.

"It is a legal requirement to wear adequate protection, and like most safety legislation, the regulations do not recognise any distinction over employment status. The rules apply to employees as well as the employer or self-employed," he says.

"But there is a requirement for the employer to provide the safety clothing for employees who are required to use a saw and also to take reasonable steps to make sure it is understood and used."

Another item of safety kit Mr Spence recommends for those who work with a chainsaw is a mobile phone, particularly for anyone working on their own with a saw.

"This is not part of the regulations," he explains. "But it is a sensible safety precaution. If you are on your own and there is an accident you may be able to get help. Some operators who work on their own arrange to make a phone call on the hour, and if they miss a call someone will be aware that there may be problem."

One of the problems with chainsaw use on farms is that it is often an occasional job.

The saw may come out for just a day or two each year to cut up a few windfall limbs or clear some overhanging branches to make headroom for the combine harvester. On this basis it may be tempting to take short cuts over training, maintenance and protective clothing.

This is a situation which concerns the HSE because, it says, there is an increased risk of an accident. Its message is that using a chainsaw can be dangerous. Wearing proper protective clothing is as important for casual users as it is for full-time professionals.n

Most vulnerable parts of the body – front of the legs, hands and head – must be protected using a chainsaw. Some work requires special clothing.

Learn the lingo

FORESTRY, like farming, has evolved its own terminology over the years. Did you know, for example that a "Wolf tree" is a large, quick growing but coarsely and poorly formed tree of low timber quality, or that a "Hoppus measure" is a form of measure for round timber in which a theoretical allowance is made for wastage in conversion?

For those who wish to appear to be informed on the subject of trees when talking to the local forester, the Royal Forestry Society has produced a dictionary of terms currently in use.

Single copies of Tree Terms are available free from the society by writing to the RFS, 102 High Street, Tring, Herts HP23 4AF enclosing an A5 stamped addressed envelope.