The Importance of Wearing Chainsaw Chaps and other Protective Equipment While Using a Chainsaw
“Failing to wear chaps - and other protective equipment - when using a chainsaw is not only unsafe; it’s a mistake that can ultimately prove fatal.”
These words, first said by a former tree-cutting professional for a publication that specializes in consumer safety, underscore the utmost importance of chainsaw safety and the need for protective gear designed to prevent injury (or worse) when operating one of these powerful and potentially tragedy-causing tools.
Chainsaws, and the errors made by those who operate them, have resulted in thousands upon thousands of accidents in the last decade and beyond. And sadly, despite some of the recent safety measures manufacturers have taken to prevent them, these injuries continue to happen.
Perhaps even sadder is that many of these injuries—and in certain cases, deaths—could have been prevented had the operators been wearing all the proper safety equipment, including, but certainly not limited to, chaps (and/or protective trousers).
In the following article we will carefully outline some of the dangers presented by chainsaw usage, highlight some of the dire statistics that spell out the quantity, severity and rate of chainsaw injuries and accidents, and explain some of the most overlooked and underappreciated rules and regulations surrounding chainsaw operation.
Finally, we will highlight some of the vital pieces of recommended safety gear (particularly chaps) that should always be worn when operating a chainsaw (either on the ground or suspended in the air), and speak to the importance of each piece of this protective gear and the reasons this equipment is so vitally important to one’s safety.
The Importance of Protective Chainsaw Gear: Injury and Accidents—Facts and Statistics
Thanks to the hard work of the workplace safety body known as OSHA, there is currently an abundance of stark and reliable information regarding chainsaw accidents and injuries in the United States.
Just last year, more than 240 people died while engaging in tree-cutting and tree-clearing incidents—deaths caused by falling trees, improper use of the chainsaw and other tree-cutting equipment, falls from elevation, and contact with overhead power lines, among other accidents.
And these are just the statistics of workplace accidents, and do not include chainsaw activities for personal use.
Not all of these deaths were preventable, according to OSHA, but a good number of them were had only the workers been wearing all of the protective equipment the group recommends.
Here are some other statistics involving chainsaws:
- According to OSHA, the use of chaps or chainsaw pants, as well as keeping both hands on the saw, would reduce chainsaw injuries by 75 percent or more.
- According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 24,000 chainsaw injuries in 2014. More than 36 percent of these were injuries to the legs and knees—which could have been prevented by chaps.
- Medical data suggests that the average chainsaw injury requires 110 stitches, and the average medical cost for a single chainsaw accident is approximately $9,000-$12,000.
- According to insurance companies, medical costs for chainsaw injuries amount to at least $450 million per year.
- According to some estimates—and assuming approximately 3-5 weeks of recovery time from each chainsaw accident—worker compensation costs from chainsaw accidents are estimated to be more than $100 million a year.
- Approximately 40 percent of all chainsaw accidents occur to the legs and well over 35 percent occur to the left (off) hand and wrist.
- Although not quantifiable, loss of production and loss of quality of life for the injured may represent the single largest cost of chainsaw injuries.
The Crucial Rules and Regulations of
Before we look at the types of protective gear that should always be worn when operating a chainsaw, let’s first take a minute to examine the vital rules and regulations of chainsaw operation—rules that are often overlooked and underappreciated.
The dire statistics we outlined above underscore the importance of the various rules and regulations surrounding chainsaw operation. Below we will take a closer look at some of these rules and recommendations.
Chainsaw Rules and Regulations
Working with chainsaws can present a number of inherent hazards, whether working on the ground or high above in a tree. As such, it is important that all chainsaw operators wear the correct types of Personal Protection Equipment to ensure their safety.
This Personal Protection Equipment is designed to prevent or mitigate the severity of accidents and injuries involving chainsaws, and can even prevent accidental deaths.
OSHA requires that all workers wear the standard amount of personal protection equipment when working with a chainsaw. This equipment should additionally be inspected before every use to ensure it is not too heavily worn and is in acceptable condition for the job at hand.
The OSHA required personal protection equipment (which we will cover in more detail in the sections below) includes:
- Head protection
- Hearing protection
- Eye/face protection
- Leg protection
- Hand protection
- Foot protection
OSHA additionally requires that certain steps be taken by the chainsaw operator prior to even starting the chainsaw.
- All operators should check and re-check the controls of the chainsaw to ensure they are working properly.
- Check the chain tension to be sure it is taught.
- Check all the bolts and handles to ensure they are functioning properly and adjusted according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Operators should make certain that the chain on the chainsaw is sharp and that the lubrication reservoir is full prior to starting the machine.
- Gasoline powered chainsaws should be filled completely—and filled at least 10 feet from any potential sources of ignition to prevent accidental fires.
- The gasoline-powered chainsaw should be filled with the proper mix of fuel and oil according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Chainsaw operators should ensure that the fuel container is made of either metal or heavy-duty plastic.
- Operators need to be sure that the fuel tank does not exceed 5 gallons in capacity and is approved by a nationally-sanctioned testing laboratory.
- Operators should make sure that all gasoline, electric or battery operated chainsaws are equipped with a protective device that prevents or minimizes chainsaw kickback.
Although these rules apply only to workplace operation of a chainsaw, they should also be observed by people operating a chainsaw for personal use.
Hundreds of accidents and injuries can be prevented when following these simple steps and by wearing the correct personal protection equipment.
In the next two sections we will talk about all the various types of personal protection gear recommended for chainsaw operation.
However, because a lion share of the injuries involving chainsaws occur to the legs, we have decided to cover the personal protection gear known as “chainsaw chaps” in its own section.
The Importance of Wearing Chainsaw Chaps or Protective Trousers
The injuries caused by accidental chainsaw mishaps can be hideous, debilitating and ultimately tragic. Therefore, it should only stand to reason that everyone who operates one of these useful tools would automatically wear chainsaw chaps or protective trousers.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for many personal chainsaw users. Far too many homeowners underestimate the risks of chainsaw usage, thus setting themselves up for a potentially devastating injury or worse.
This is a problem that needs to be addressed and fixed—sooner rather than later.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on their website pertaining to chainsaws and chainsaw usage, “Each year, approximately 36,000 people are treated in hospital emergency departments for injuries from using chainsaws.”
This is a large number—too large. Moreover, a good portion of these accidents result in leg and knee injuries—injuries that can be very severe in some cases.
As we noted above, chainsaw chaps or protective trousers could reduce the number of chainsaw injuries by about 75 percent, effectively making these pieces of protective gear the most important pieces of gear an operator could wear.
Chainsaw Chaps and Their Important Role in Chainsaw Leg Protection
When a chainsaw slips during cutting, the action of the chain can propel the saw towards the operator’s legs, causing damage that can range from painful to devastating. Moreover, it can happen in just a blink of an eye.
Sadly, jeans and other work pants are not enough to protect you from such an event, as the chainsaw will quickly rip through that material on its way to your flesh.
Fortunately, there is a low-cost way to protect your legs from these types of injuries: Chainsaw Chaps.
Chainsaw chaps are manufactured from a fairly lightweight, cut-resistant material that can prevent the saw—and its moving chain—from cutting through the material.
When a chainsaw comes into contact with chainsaw chaps, it will either force the saw to cut off or bounce away from your body, or at most, cut into the chaps—and NOT your leg. Given the severity of these potential cuts, that makes chainsaw chaps worth their very weight in gold.
Most experts say that chainsaw chaps should be worn in conjunction with a quality pair of chainsaw pants. Why? Because while chainsaw chaps are certainly “cut-resistant;” they are not completely “cut-proof.”
Like chainsaw chaps, chainsaw pants are also very cut-resistant, giving you an extra level of protection against accidental injury. And when worn in conjunction with each other, the duo is usually enough to protect you from injury during those first few critical seconds in which the chainsaw makes contact, giving you enough time to either move the chainsaw away from your body, or shut the machine down completely.
Chainsaw chaps and chainsaw pants can certainly protect you against the kickback of the saw, but they can also save you from injury in the event you trip or fall or lose your grip on the chainsaw.
Just as a helmet can help protect your head during a fall on a hard surface, chainsaw chaps and chainsaw pants can keep your legs safe during chainsaw operation.
There is a reason why tree-cutting companies invest their money in quality chainsaw chaps and protective trousers for their workers—because the cost of such protective gear is nothing compared to the cost of injury or even death.
A good pair of chainsaw chaps will buy you—the chainsaw operator—just enough time to prevent a potentially life-threatening injury.
Anyone who chooses to operate a chainsaw should wear chainsaw chaps and protective trousers—otherwise they should hire a professional to do the work for them.
These simple pieces of equipment, which can be purchased both online and in stores, give operators that split second of safety they need to avoid a potentially catastrophic injury or fatality.
Other Types of Chainsaw Protection,
and Why It Is Vital
While chainsaw chaps and protective trousers are essential for anyone who chooses to operate a chainsaw, they are not the only types of personal protection gear recommended by OSHA.
According to that safety body, when using a chainsaw, whether on the ground or while suspended in the air, operators should wear multiple layers of equipment—which we have outlined below.
In fact, even those who are working nearby where the chainsaw is being used should adhere to most of these rules.
Here are the various types of Personal Protection Equipment every chainsaw operator should wear/use:
Chainsaw Helmet For Head Protection
Helmets can help protect you against head injury in the event of a fall or from falling branches and other debris. It is important that you buy the best chainsaw helmet that you can afford. This type of personal protection equipment is one of the most important on our list, as head injuries account for a good portion of the “serious” accidents in places where chainsaws are being used.
Anyone operating a chainsaw or working near a tree-cutting or trimming worksite should wear an approved helmet, preferably a hard hat that is highly visible in color and has a chin strap to prevent it from falling off.
Helmets should be worn at all times, whether working on the ground or in the air. All helmets should meet the appropriate safety standards as outlined by OSHA, and should be checked regularly for cracks and wear.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 10 Americans has some form of hearing loss that affects his or her ability to understand normal speech. Moreover, excessive noise exposure—such as the noise caused by a chainsaw—is the most common cause of hearing loss.
The effect of noise is real and can be devastating. Workers can also develop tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears), which can be simply unbearable to cope with.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect your hearing during chainsaw operation. Even if you already have some form of hearing loss, these type of hearing protection devices can help slow the progression of that hearing loss, and may help you avoid total deafness.
Hearing protection devices tend to look and feel just like headphones. However, these devices are made especially to help muffle and/or block out loud noises. Like helmets, they can be purchased online or in most home improvement or construction equipment stores.
Just make sure the device you select is approved for chainsaw usage, meaning it offers protection from the sound a loud, gasoline-powered chainsaw produces.
Chainsaw Eye and Face Protection
Anyone working at a tree-trimming or tree-felling site should be wearing the proper eye and face protection at all times. Most chainsaw helmets incorporate this protection nowadays. This includes those who use a chainsaw for personal use. Workers should strongly consider the need for eye and face protection due to hazards like flying debris (woodchips, etc.) and branches.
There are two pieces of personal protection equipment that fall into the category of eye and face protection: goggles and visors—visors that are either part of the hard hat or that can be attached to the hard hat when working at such sites.
Goggles that completely cover the eyes should be worn at all times. Safety glasses and sunglasses are not a suitable option here, because these tend to move around and can fall off while working.
The strap of the goggles should fit snugly around the head—although not so snugly as to be uncomfortable—and should be regularly cleaned to avoid accidents caused by impaired vision.
Visors, also known as face shields, protect workers’ faces from falling debris. Most hard hats come with a visor as standard equipment, but if you are using another type of helmet you should definitely invest in a separate face shield.
Keep in mind that visors or face shields alone are not enough to protect the eyes when operating a chainsaw or when working at a tree-cutting site. Thus, these two pieces of personal protection equipment should always be worn together.
Hand protection is also very important when operating a chainsaw. To ensure the hands are protected, OSHA recommends leather gloves with ballistic nylon reinforcement on the back.
These types of gloves offer a superior grip on the saw and even absorb some of the vibration. Leather gloves can also prevent cuts when operating the saw, or when sharpening the chainsaw prior to use.
It must be noted that these gloves, although they are said to be "cut resistant", it is unlikely that they would actually prevent a chainsaw from cutting through the fabric, therefore, great care should still be taken while wearing these type of gloves.
Chainsaw Foot Protection
To protect your feet when operating a chainsaw—or when working around chainsaw operation—you should definitely invest in a pair of heavy, well-fitted, safety work boots approved by OSHA standards. These boots have a reinforced steel toe to protect workers from falling debris.
In addition to the standard requirements for safety boots at any tree-cutting or even construction worksite, chain saw operators should wear boots made from cut-resistant materials.
These boots offer protection from contact with running chainsaws, and, like chaps, can give you that split second of safety that may save you from a devastating injury. According to the safety regulations for footwear, boots made of ballistic nylon offer the best cut protection.
Also recommended are rubber soles for wet weather and snow, and hobnail boots, grip soles or cork soles when working in rough terrain.
In summary, any time you are working with a chainsaw it is imperative you use chainsaw chaps, protective trousers, helmets, hearing protection, goggles, visors, gloves and cut-resistant boots.
It may sound like a lot, but collectively, these important pieces of personal protection equipment can not only protect you from personal injury, they may even save your life.