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Make chain saw safety a top priority

Farmstead Forest: Sawing and thinning trees can be dangerous, so heed safety precautions and wear your safety gear.

When you head out to the woods for a day of cutting, do you have your PPE gear on? That is your personal protective equipment. PPE protects your body from harm while cutting and trimming trees, which can be dangerous, especially with challenging weather.

Farm safety organizations and Extension experts typically recommend wearing clothing that fits well, with no dangling or ragged edges that can get caught by the saw, or in limbs and bark. So, my ragged, old flannel shirt with tears in the sleeve wouldn’t be the best choice for cutting in the woods.

Here are some examples of PPE to keep you safe during chain saw operations.

• Hard hat. I have been known to be hard-headed, but I’m still no match for a falling branch. The hard hat protects your head from falling limbs, and prevents your head from taking a blow from flying debris or branches that drop and slap back unexpectedly.

• Face shield or googles. A full-face shield, safety goggles or safety glasses with side shields can protect your face and eyes from flying debris, dust and bark. Debris and dust don’t always fly straight into your eyes, so side protection is important.

• Leg chaps. These should be made from ballistic nylon or Kevlar, and can be a real lifesaver when it comes to protecting legs from kickback damage from the saw.

• Good shoes. You work your best when you have a good foundation, so it is recommended that you wear proper, steel-toed high-top boots with aggressive-treaded soles to protect your feet and ankles, and maintain your stability while operating the chain saw, even on rugged terrain in cold, damp and slick conditions.

• Leather gloves. These protect your hands from cuts, abrasions or splinters. There are woodcutters’ chain saw gloves that have slip-resistant palms and are made of synthetic cut-resistant material, or have a Kevlar inner lining on the back of the hand and fingers, just like the leg chaps.

• Hearing protection. Don’t forget your ears. Chain saws are loud. Earplugs or earmuffs can protect your ears from high noise levels of the saw, which can exceed 90 decibels. Hearing protective gear with a minimum noise reduction rating of 25 is necessary to reduce your risk of hearing loss from continued operation of the saw.

Besides PPE and hearing protection, safety experts recommend that you shouldn’t try to do too much with the chain saw you have. Remember that it isn’t a pry bar. Operators need to understand the limitations to their saws and not try to cut logs that are too large for the saws they are using.

Generally, this means that small chainsaws with 8- to 14-inch guide bars are made for light work, cutting small branches and dropping smaller trees. Medium-sized saws with 16- to 22-inch bars work for dropping, limbing and cutting trees that range in diameter from 8 to 22 inches. Large saws with guide bars longer than 18 inches can be used for heavy-duty logging of large trees.

Finally, it is a good idea to have a buddy while working the woods, to help with the cutting and just in case something goes wrong. Communication is always key. If you are cutting wood, be sure your cellphone is charged up and that you let family and friends know where you are and how long you will be working.

You can learn more about general agricultural safety,, as well as equipment safety by visiting the University of Nebraska Medical Center Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health.

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