Respect Your Machine

It's not unusual after a major storm for people to rush to the store or rental yard for chain saws to aid in cleanup. Unfortunately, all too often, that leads to a rush to the local emergency room for severe injuries resulting from careless or inexperienced chain-saw operators.

Inexperienced operators, and even some experienced ones, are unaware of the most significant attitude every chain-saw operator must have - respect. And respect comes with knowing and following chain-saw safety precautions.

Safety begins with reading the operator's manual and reviewing it periodically. Operator's manuals contain messages on safe operation as well as servicing tips.

Proper chain-saw use also includes dressing properly for the job. Wear snug clothing. Do not wear scarves, jewelry, neckties or other loose items that could be drawn into the engine or catch the chain or underbrush. Wear overalls, jeans or chaps made of cut-resistant material or that contain cut-resistant inserts. Wear nonslip safety footwear to improve traction and nonslip, heavy-duty gloves to improve your grip and protect your hands. Also, wear head, eye and hearing protection.

First-time users If you are starting the chain saw for the first time - or after a period of nonuse - make sure it's in good operating condition. Make sure you have fresh fuel and engine oil and that you have the right fuel/oil mixture - critical for optimum power. You can refer to your operator's manual to determine the correct fuel/oil ratio. Periodically check and clean the air filters. Some manufacturers have semi-self-cleaning air filters that reduce the need to clean or change as often. Forced air promotes dust separation before reaching the filter, and upward airflow prevents residual buildup.

Make sure all safety devices are in place and working properly. This includes the chain brake, guide bars and any anti-kickback devices. Also make sure the chain tension is set correctly. New chains stretch and must be tightened frequently. Once again, the operator's manual will tell you how to do this.

Proper starting procedure sets the tone for safe operation. Place the chain saw on level ground and ensure that no objects or obstructions are in the immediate vicinity that could come in contact with the bar and chain. Hold the front handle firmly with one hand and put your opposite foot onto the base of the rear handle. Set the chain brake and start the engine.

Kickbacks One of the most important things to understand about chain saws is the potential danger of kickback. Kickback occurs when the moving chain contacts an object at the upper portion of the tip of the guide bar or when the wood closes in and pinches the saw chain in the cut. Contact at the upper portion of the tip of the guide bar can cause the chain to dig into the object and stop for an instant. The result is a lightning-fast reverse reaction that kicks the guide bar up and back toward the operator.

If the saw chain is pinched along the top of the guide bar, the bar can be driven rapidly back toward the operator. Either reaction can cause loss of saw control, which can result in serious injury. Along with proper cutting technique, the use of such safety devices as anti-kickback nose tips, reduced-kickback bars and chains, and chain brakes can make cutting safer and more trouble-free.

Staying accident-free Operators can take several steps to keep cutting jobs free from accident or injury. To help reduce kickback, keep a firm grip on the saw with both hands when the engine is running. Place one hand on the rear handle and the other on the front handle. The fingers should encircle the handlebar, and the thumb should be wrapped under it. This grip is least likely to be broken by kickback or any other sudden reaction of the saw. Any grip in which the thumb and fingers are on the same side of the handle is dangerous because a slight kick of the saw can cause loss of control.

A good stance ensures operator stability. The operator's weight should be balanced on both feet, with the feet on solid ground.

Never use a cross-handed grip or any stance that would place your body or arm across the chain line.

Before cutting, accelerate the engine to full throttle just before entering the cut by squeezing the throttle trigger. Keep the engine at full throttle while you cut. Allow the chain to cut for you; exert only light downward pressure. Forcing the cut could cause damage to the chain, bar or engine.

Safety guidelines Before starting the job, make sure that everyone - helpers, bystanders, children and animals - is a safe distance from the cutting area. During felling operations, that distance should be at least twice the height of the largest tree in the felling area. During bucking operations, keep a minimum of 15 feet between workers.

Do not use a chain saw to cut any material other than wood - no sheet metal, plastics, masonry or nonwood building materials. Do not cut above chest height because a saw held higher is difficult to control against kickback. Do not operate a chain saw if you are fatigued. Cut only when visibility is adequate.

Operating a chain saw safely is a matter of knowing and practicing safety precautions, common sense and, above all, respect for the machine and its potential.

When using a chain saw, operators should

* Ensure that everyone is at least twice the height of the largest tree away from the cutting area during felling.

* Keep others at least 15 feet apart during bucking.

* Use it only to cut wood.

* Not cut above chest height.

* Not operate when fatigued.

* Cut only when visibility is adequate.

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