Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.)
Chainsaws are dangerous. Everyone knows it; that’s part of their machismo appeal; that’s why they’re the king of the hand-held power equipment. It’s why we love them, and why zombies should fear them. Despite the fact that everyone knows how dangerous they are, it is amazing to me how many people (I’m looking at you, men) laugh, scoff, or otherwise ridicule the use of Personal Protective Equipment (or P.P.E.) to enhance chainsaw safety practices. Why men feel the need to endanger themselves needlessly over misconstrued ideas of manliness is beyond the scope of this piece, but what is important for you, dear reader, is to understand that if you plan on holding a running chainsaw in your hands, you need to invest in P.P.E.. Personal Protective Equipment is not cheap. Depending on the chainsaw you are purchasing, you might wind up spending as much (or possibly more) on P.P.E as on the chainsaw. This is a significant expense that will impact your purchasing decision. If you are thinking upping the machismo factor and skipping this expense, don’t forget to factor in what various bits and body parts (and possibly your life) are worth to you in your risk analysis. When you consider that the average chainsaw injury requires 110 stitches and costs about $12 000.00, I believe that most people will quickly see P.P.E as a worthwhile investment.( http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/reviews/power-tools/4286772).
The first piece of P.P.E that you need to invest in is a good pair of safety glasses. These babies are cheap, and, depending on how much you want to spend, come in styles that look just like a pair of shades. If I have to convince you that safety glasses are a necessity when using a machine that’s sole mission in life is to turn trees into small pieces of wood and hurl said pieces around through the air then you probably can skip the next paragraph as it involves protecting an organ you probably don’t use much. Safety glasses are also essential for when you are sharpening your chain. When filing the chain, the file throws tiny filings of metal quite high in the air: high enough to easily reach your eyes. If filing inside, these filings are so fine that you probably won’t see them, but do your filing in sunlight and if you look closely you might see the sparkling pixie dust flying high in the air. Needless to say, microscopic pie ces of metal are not something you want in between the lense of your eye and your eyelid.
The next piece of equipment is an absolutely necessary piece of chainsaw safety equipment if you are going to be felling a tree, or in any situation where there is a risk of being struck by a falling object. The use of an a properly certified helmet cannot be stressed enough. A small branch falling from even a modest height can generate severe impact forces. Think of a baseball bat: size wise it would be a very small limb, but you wouldn’t want to be hit in the head by it. Even after the tree is on the ground, there is still a risk of falling debris as the falling tree often breaks limbs in the overhanging canopy. A good choice of helmet would consist of a cutter’s helmet with a mesh visor and attached hearing protection. The mesh visor does a great job of keeping splinters and wood fragments from hitting you in the face, particularly when making notch and felling cuts. Having your hearing protection attached to the helmet is good in that it keeps them out of your way when not in use, but the drawback is that you are locked into wearing your helmet all of the time which can be quite warm. I cannot stress enough the importance of protecting the ol’ cranium: remember it’s where you keep everything that’s you.
Hearing protection is a must, and it should be worn any time you are using loud power equipment. Industrial hearing loss is real and it can affect even us weekend warriors. Your hearing is the best it will ever be on the day you are born, and it is all downhill after that. Why speed up the rate of loss? Sadly, we often do not notice hearing loss until it is too late. Slowly the frequency range we can hear fades away, and it isn’t until we can no longer hear our mother in laws pontificate on our many virtues, or deficiencies that we realize our loss (silver linings people, silver linings). Foam ear plugs work in a pinch, and they are cheap, but they begin to itch after awhile. Taking foam plugs out is easy, but it isn’t fun putting them back in when your hands are dirty. Stand alone muffs, or cans, are great pieces of chainsaw safety equipment as they can free you from the sweaty helmet, but are easier to lose or misplace.
In addition to a helmet and safety glasses, you will also want to invest in a good pair of gloves to protect your hands. You are constantly rechecking the chain’s tension and gloves keep you from cutting yourself when adjusting the chain. Specialty chainsaw gloves are available which contain cut resistant material on the back of the left glove (or on the backs of both) to protect your hand in the event of a chain breakage. This offers a nice additional layer of protection, but it is a trade off for bulkier and hotter gloves. Most chainsaws already have guards built into the handles to offer some protection in the event of a chain breaking, so it is extra protection that may not be necessary at a price in reduced comfort. I do think that investing in a pair of gloves with anti-vibration pads in the palms is a good idea as even chainsaws with good anti-vibe systems still produce enough vibration to be a long term concern for circulatory and nerve damage. Numb hands are not a good thing.
Chaps and Chainsaw Pants
Yet another piece of P.P.E that you will need to purchase is a pair of chaps or chainsaw pants. Chaps and Pants will represent a significant expenditure for chainsaw safety equipment, but considering the bulk of your cutting will take place with the chain merrily spinning at around at around thirty miles per hour just inches from your legs, they are an essential piece of protective equipment. Not to bore you with flashbacks to anatomy class, but one of the largest arteries in the human body (the femoral artery) lies just 3/4 of an inch below the skin in the groin area and upper inner thigh region. Nick this with a chainsaw and you could bleed to death in under a minute (you could pass out within seconds due to an immediate drop in blood pressure-so don’t operate a chainsaw alone), so it is generally a good idea to wear some cut resistant protection over your legs and thighs. I might also point out that there is a certain organ located in this area that you might also want to protect, and although this organ is not necessary to life, I am willing to bet that most of us would not have much interest in living without it.
Although chaps and chainsaw pants offer some cut resistance, they are not armor. Their main function is for the long fibres in the protective pads to quickly jam the drive rim/sprocket and stop the chain’s rotation in fractions of a second. This rapid jamming of the chain’s rotation’s main function is to give you time to react and get out of the saw’s way. The speed in which the saw moves from the reactive forces involved is often much faster than the human body’s ability to react, and the theory behind chaps and pants is to stop the chain before too much damage is done.
Which one? Chaps or Pants?
Both chaps and pants have their advantages and disadvantages. The main advantages to wearing chainsaw pants lies in they generally have pads with better/more layers of protection, and the pads of the lower legs usually wrap around the back to cover the calves. This “wrap” of padding offers better protection as it is much more difficult for a spinning chain to swing the pad out of the way thereby exposing the soft, tender flesh of your shapely gams. Another “advantage” to wearing pants over chaps is that you are much less likely to take them off in the field for a break and forget to put them back on. Chainsawing is like cooking bacon: you don’t want to do it with naked flesh exposed. Pants are also less likely than chaps to snag on brush and twigs as you move through the woods (this might not be much of an issue in the suburbs). The disadvantages to wearing chainsaw pants is that you are locked in to wearing them once you put them on. The padding inherent in chaps and pants make them quite warm to be wearing while working in the summer. Unlike chaps, pants cannot be removed when not cutting to give you a break from the heat. Once again, for us average homeowners, these disadvantages are not as great as they are to people working all day in the bush. Pants also tend to cost a little more than chaps, but then, they also tend to look a bit better and a lot less “village peopley“.
When it comes to chaps, their main advantage lies in their flexibility. They are easy to put on and they are easy to remove. This allows you to take them off during your breaks from cutting which allows you to cool off much better than when wearing pants. Chaps are also open in the back which makes them much cooler than their pant counterparts. A little breeze on the back of the “boys“ can be a wonderful thing when the humidity rises. Chaps are also usually a bit cheaper than pants which is also a bonus. Because chaps are so easy to put on and take off, they are a good choice for us occasional users. Chaps are also available in an apron or full wrap version which covers the back of the calves to prevent the chains rotational force moving the pad out of the way before it can do its job. Although pants tend to have more padding than chaps, chaps can be purchased with just as much protection as pants, but they may be harder to source in some locations. Chaps are also more likely to snag on a branch when walking as they are held on by straps that wrap around the legs and thighs which can leave the material open to snagging. Depending on where you live, finding chaps that are long enough might also be an issue. Chaps come in various sizes from 36″ to 46″; I’m 6’2″, if you are 5’11” or over, you will probably need a 40″ or larger. Where I live, shops and dealers only stock 36″ chaps, and I need at least 44″ chaps, so I had to source my chaps from out of town. Chaps are not sized like pants, the size refers to the distance from the waist strap to your instep which is substantially different from the way we size trousers: by the length of the inseam.
Last, but not least, in our list of necessary P.P.E are the humble boots. Specialized chainsaw boots are very expensive, and for the average homeowner the price might not be justified (you will have to decide how much the extra cut protection is worth). For the casual sawyer, a good pair of steel toed leather work boots might be all that is needed. If the sawyer is wearing properly sized chaps or pants, the only area left protected by the boots would be the toes and instep. The steel toe will more than cover the toes, so it is really the instep that would be protected only by the piece of leather that makes up the boot. Sometimes you roll the dice. One key feature that you want to look for in choosing which boots to wear lies in a sure grip. You do not want to lose your footing while operating a chainsaw.