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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Remember Chain Saw Safety This Fall

LAS CRUCES -- As the weather gets colder, people are stocking up on firewood and cleaning up dead wood. The increased use of chain saws brings some serious safety risks, said Craig Runyan, farm safety coordinator with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

"Used improperly, a chain saw can inflict serious injury causing death, dismemberment or, at the least, permanent disability," he said.

Runyan knows a man who suffered severe injuries from misusing a chain saw. The man was clearing a pile of wood, when the chain saw kicked back and "bucked" upward, flipping over his left shoulder and cutting his neck. "He was trying to hurry and wasn't paying attention," Runyan explained.

People need to understand chain saws and take safety precautions, he said Before using a chain saw, the operator should read the owner's manual. It describes the recommended safety practices. If something is unclear, dealers and service shops can answer any questions, Runyan said.

"Inclement weather such as wind, snow, ice or rain can cause slippery or unstable situations and make chain saw use dangerous. Bad weather can cause the operator to rush, creating a risk for injury," he said.

When using the saw, wear warm, comfortable, close-fitting clothing that will not get caught. Wear nonslip boots and gloves, protective leggings and safety eyeglasses. Also, hard hats protect the operator from flying debris and earplugs are advisable to protect the operator's hearing, Runyan said.

When operating the chain saw, keep some fire-fighting equipment nearby. A shovel should always be available to smother small fires. A 2- to 5-gallon, pump-up sprayer filled with water will stop most small fires. In very dry conditions, a Class AB chemical fire extinguisher should be available.

Refuel on bare ground to reduce fire hazard, using a spout or funnel to avoid splashing gasoline on hot engine parts. "Never, never smoke while refueling," Runyan said.

Chain saw sizes range from a 6-inch bar "minisaw" to 20-inch or larger heavyweights. The size of the wood that can be safely cut is relative to the saw's size.

"Twelve-inch bar lightweight saws are best for farm and home jobs, because they are more versatile and cause less fatigue for the operator," Runyan said. "Don't try to make the saw do more than it was built to do."

A well-maintained saw and chain cuts well and is easy to use. A poor-running saw with a dull chain is dangerous. Maintain saws regularly, Runyan advised.

A proper stance and firm hold on the chain saw can help prevent accidents, he said. "Keep a firm, two-handed grip on the saw and stand off-center of the cut. This stance will keep your throttle hand and elbow in line with the cut. The most important thing to remember is to use only the bottom of the chain bar -- not the nose or top -- to make a cut."