Every season is wood-cutting season. If you have a tree down on a cattle fence line or are cleaning up around the farmyard after a windstorm, you probably just want to get the job done. You don’t want to have to take the time to gear up for a quick chain saw job. But when you look at the chain saw accident statistics, you might change your mind.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 36,000 people visit the hospital emergency room each year from chain saw accidents. In 2012 alone, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported 243 chain saw-related accidental deaths.
Medical costs related to chain saw injuries top $350 million each year. Of the accidents that occur each year among chain saw operators, about 40% of the resulting injuries are to the leg.
While all protective gear is important while operating a chain saw, including head, eye, face and ear protection; good boots for traction and protection; and cut- and weather-resistant gloves, chain saw protective chaps or leggings are among the most crucial.
The chain saw, as most landowners know, is an essential but aggressive power tool. It’s dangerous to operate, even under perfect conditions. Most of the time, wood-cutting conditions aren’t perfect. The chance that a chain saw will kick back at one time or another is relatively high, especially if you do a lot of wood cutting.
If a pair of jeans is all you have between your leg and the running chain saw blade, you basically have no protection at all. Chain saw chaps are made of several layers of protective fibers, such as ballistic nylon or Kevlar, that bind up and stop the blade of a chain saw immediately upon contact. So, if the chain saw kicks back into your leg, the chaps will stop the chain saw blades and protect your leg from injury.
There are very inexpensive chaps on the market, with little frills and only four layers of fiber for protection. There also are chaps, with a price tag of $100 or more, that have nine layers of fiber and notable adjustable straps and perhaps leg wraparound features to offer more complete protection.
More layers of fiber give more protection to your legs, and probably justify the price, especially when you consider the cost of a major injury.
When purchasing chaps, there are features for everyone. Some protective leggings are lightweight and more comfortable for summer cutting, without giving up protection. Others are more water- and oil-resistant for cutting under tougher weather and working conditions.
Some leggings offer small pockets to keep smaller tools close at hand, while others offer numerous adjustable straps to keep the fit snug.
You want the chaps to fit snugly, so there is no chance of loose-fitting leggings accidentally contacting the chain saw. But they shouldn’t be too small, because they will be quite uncomfortable during long days in the woods.
Like all safety gear, chaps will only work if you have them on while you are cutting. Owning the chaps doesn’t mean that you will use them. It is recommended by safety experts to put on chaps every time you go out to cut wood, even for quick cleanup jobs around the farm.
Learn more safety tips for chain saw operation at cdc.gov.