How to stay safe while using a chainsaw

You might hear it in your neighborhood these days – a symphony of chainsaws.

And while many Prince Edward Islanders may be trained to use a chainsaw, not all are taking safety precautions.

Earlier this week, PEI ER doctor Dr. Kay Dingwell: “From your friendly neighborhood ER doctor: Holy crap folks – WEAR EYE PROTECTION WHEN CHAINSAWING. We only have so many ophthalmologists.”

Experts agree that wearing the correct personal protective equipment, or PPE, is vital when using a chainsaw. That means everything from steel-toed shoes to sturdy trousers and gloves, to goggles, hearing protection and a helmet.

Mitch Jamieson is the owner and founder of Atlantic Tree Solutions in Truro, NS. He has taught chainsaw safety courses here at PEI and in the region.

He says he knows people really want to tidy up their yard, but they should think before they start a chainsaw.

The crews are busy in the Atlantic region cutting down and chopping down trees that have been devastated by Fiona. (Photo courtesy of Mitch Jamieson)

“The chainsaw is an extremely dangerous tool, especially in the hands of someone who hasn’t been trained in how to use it,” he told CBC News. “And then combine that with not wearing PPE — that’s a recipe for getting hurt.”

As a bare minimum, Jamieson said, you should wear properly fitting chainsaw chaps or pants in good condition.

The chainsaw is an extremely dangerous tool, especially in the hands of someone who hasn’t been trained to use it… It’s a recipe for injury.– Mitch Jamieson

“Also, hearing protection and eye protection are very important, and if you’re doing something that involves upper body damage then a hard hat or helmet must also be available.”

Jamieson said people should also make sure their chainsaw is working properly and that all safety precautions are in place on the equipment.

“It’s important for people to remember that PPE is the last line of defense so it will keep you from potentially cutting off your leg. But it’s good work practices, safeguards on the chainsaw and at the end of the day, it’s really the knowledge of using the tool that will keep people safe.

A man clears a fallen tree blocking a street in Halifax after Hurricane Dorian in 2019. (John Morris/Reuters)

No shorts, no sneakers

Jamieson knows people don’t necessarily think they need training.

“Because we were so rural here in the Maritimes, many of us grew up with family members who had chainsaws. And so it’s sometimes seen as a tool that anyone can use—and anyone absolutely can use. But the only way to make it safe is to train safely in it.”

Amazingly, Jamieson said he saw people wielding a chainsaw while wearing shorts and trainers this week.

“I was wondering, you know, when we worked on Saturday, it was still a very windy day. There were still trees that failed.

“I heard sirens wailing all day, I saw fire trucks driving all day … and it came to my mind, you know, ‘I’m wondering if those are medical calls from someone who hurt themselves,’ either with chainsaw or just hurting yourself doing tree work.”

He said working on the storm tree is extremely dangerous because there are many variables involved.

“Even experts still have to stop and carefully assess what’s going on and create a plan before we even start work.”

Fatigue is a sign to quit

Kurt Laird of Laird Tree Care on PEI agrees.

He said he worries people used to chopping their own firewood will take on a bigger, more dangerous project after Fiona.

Kurt Laird, right, with two of his Laird Tree Care crew members. (Submitted by Kurt Laird)

“It’s very different than something that has dynamic forces acting on it, and that’s where the problems come in, where branches and bits of wood go where you don’t expect them to. It happens to the best of us, you know. One day last week a branch hit me right on the lip.”

If someone is not fresh, they are welcome to take a break.— Kurt Laird

He added that fatigue is something else to think about.

“We’re trying to keep everyone fresh and if anyone isn’t fresh they’re welcome to take a break or go home and rest.”

In terms of training, there are several options in the area, including the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project, which offers regular chainsaw safety courses.

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