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Working Safely with Chain Saws

The chain saw has become an invaluable tool for lineworkers and arborists who maintain electrical systems, whether it is used for accessing areas for routine maintenance, for tree trimming to ensure circuit reliability or to clear problem areas during storm restoration efforts. The chain saw is also responsible for approximately 30,000 injuries a year. To help you avoid becoming a statistic, this Tailgate covers the basics of chain saw safety.

Before Starting the Saw
• Check controls, chain tension, and all bolts and handles to ensure they are functioning properly and adjusted according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Fuel the saw at least 10 feet from sources of ignition, but the more distance, the better.
• Check the fuel container for the following requirements:
     o It must be metal or plastic.
     o It must not exceed 5 gallons.
     o It must be approved by Underwriters Laboratories, Factory Mutual, the U.S. Department of Transportation or another nationally recognized testing laboratory.
• Don’t assume anything. During your job briefing, thoroughly discuss all the hazards associated with chain saw use and what must be done to minimize risk.
• Clear away dirt, debris, small tree limbs and rocks from the saw’s chain path. Ensure there are no nails, spikes or other metal pieces in the tree or pole before cutting.

While Running the Saw
• Keep your hands on the handles and maintain secure footing while operating the chain saw.
• Clear the working area of obstacles that might interfere with cutting the tree or using the exit path.
• Do not cut directly overhead.
• Shut off or release the throttle prior to exiting.
• Shut off or engage the chain brake whenever the saw is carried more than 50 feet or across hazardous terrain.
• Keep both hands on the saw while it’s running. Work slowly – don’t rush. Let the chain saw do the work; never force it.
• Be prepared for kickback. If possible, use saws that feature chain brakes, low kickback chains and guide bars to reduce the dangers of kickback.
• Be careful that the pole, trunk or tree limbs will not bind against the saw.
• Be aware of the condition of the pole, tree or limb that you are cutting.
• Watch for branches or pole pieces that are under tension or suspended; they may spring or swing out when cut.

Protective Equipment Requirements
• When the chain saw is not in use, protect the blade and chain with a scabbard.
• PPE is designed to prevent or lessen the severity of injuries for workers using chain saws. Head protection, hearing protection, eye/face protection, leg protection, foot protection and hand protection must be used when hazards make it necessary.
• PPE must be inspected prior to use on each work shift to ensure it is in serviceable condition.

Employers involved in tree trimming and removal are required to assure that their employees are able to safely perform their assigned tasks. Training requirements include:
• OSHA standards including bloodborne pathogens, minimum approach distances to live power lines, first aid and CPR.
• How to safely perform assigned work tasks including the specific hazards associated with each task and the measures and work practices that will be used to control the hazards.
• How to safely use and maintain tools, machines and vehicles that the employee will be required to utilize to complete the assigned tasks.

By following these basic rules, you can keep yourself safe and free of injury while using a chain saw.

About the Author: John Boyle is vice president of safety and quality for INTREN, an electric, gas and telecommunication construction company based in Union, Ill. Boyle has more than 28 years of experience, and has worked in nuclear and wind power generation and electric and gas distribution.

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