A previous column discussed chain saw injuries - the saw's bite is worse than its bark, but the bark should not be ignored, either. To promote safety involving what is intrinsically the most dangerous tool in common use, risk recognition and use of protective equipment are fundamental.
Recognition is as basic as acknowledging the potential for injury and avoiding it. Fatalities from saw operation are rare, numbering about three dozen annually in the U.S. Tripping over or falling on a saw running at high rpm are terror scenarios. Even a saw at fast idle is a threat. If a major blood vessel in the neck or groin is hit, the result will be DRT - dead right there.
Be sure of a solid, secure, slip-free footing. Have a strong grip on the saw, as if you expect it to kick back. Avoid contact with the bar tip on any object, unless a plunge cut is intended. Just because a saw is small and light doesn't mean you should operate it with one hand. Fatigue is synonymous with quit.
Because insurance companies are students of risk and, in a sense, partially rule our lives, their requirements for insurability are notable. Safety requirements for operators in the forest-products extraction industry, aka loggers, are simple. At a minimum, these are a helmet and protective chaps - available from Kroegers and Durango Outdoor Power Equipment. Own and use both.
The helmet sounds like a no-brainer, but it is sophisticated. The helmet is impact resistant, usually plastic, similar to those required in and around construction sites. It usually has a visor to protect the face from debris and, to some degree, kickback. Eye protection, in addition to the visor, also is recommended. The visors are usually two types, clear and solid like Lexan or a mesh screen. The clear types may eventually scratch and they have a tendency to fog. Sweat simply passes through the mesh type and fogging is not a problem.
The other component to the logger's helmet is earmuffs that offer noise protection of about 25 decibels. Because most chain saws, except electric ones, run at about 100 to 110 db, a level which can produce hearing loss in minutes (below 80 decibels usually is safe), earmuffs are essential for hearing conservation.
Another protection is chaps, usually ballistic nylon or Kevlar, that cover the legs from ankles to waist. Chaps are designed to meet the minimum American Society for Testing of Materials standard of stopping a chain saw running at 2,500 feet per minute. Kevlar gloves are available, as are reinforced boots to resist the hit from a wayward saw. The cost of these items is much less than just getting past the admissions clerk at any emergency room. Complete helmets are $25-$30, chaps $50-$60.
My favorite items are ear plugs at 50 cents a pair. Not only do they add up to 30 decibels of protection to earmuffs, they are great travel items, good for blocking out the obnoxious airline passenger or the caterwauling child. With earplugs, I'm nothing but smiles.
Dr. Fraser Houston is a retired emergency room physician who worked at area hospitals after moving to Southwest Colorado from New Hampshire in 1990.