Train for chainsaw safety

August 15, 2019 -  By
Chainsaw operator at work (Photo: Aspen Tree Expert Co.)

ONGOING TRAINING At Aspen Tree Expert Co., even seasoned crew members undergo refresher chainsaw courses to prevent bad and unsafe habits. (Photo: Aspen Tree Expert Co.)

For crews at Aspen Tree Expert Co. in Jackson, N.J., chainsaw training begins on day one. In fact, employees will have a solid four hours of training and education under their belts before they even put their hands on a chainsaw.

“There are so many things to learn,” says Mark Chisholm, the company’s director of operations. “We train everyone across the board because it enhances safety across the board.”

For many landscape and tree care companies, chainsaws are vital tools to getting the job done each day. With the high level of risk involved in operating these powerful machines, industry experts agree that continuous, in-depth training is a must to keep operators safe and efficient.

“Running a chainsaw is a skill that will slip away from you if you do not continue to practice,” says Kenneth Glass, technical sales specialist for mid-Atlantic Stihl. “The best thing a contractor can do is spend some time with both new and seasoned users.”

At Aspen Tree Expert, a $5 million company that provides tree care, plant health care and insect control services to a 55 percent commercial, 45 percent residential clientele, training begins by understanding the components of a chainsaw. Crew members are required to watch training videos and study the user manual, which Chisholm says is the Bible when it comes to chainsaw safety. Time is spent understanding the various types of personal protective equipment (PPE) crews must wear when operating a chainsaw or power saw. Required PPE at Aspen Tree Experts includes a hard hat, eye and hearing protection, appropriate pants or chaps, gloves and work boots.

Crews are then shown how to inspect a chainsaw, checking items such as the chain tension, chain catch, chain break and throttle interlock, Chisholm says. Next, trainers show crews how to start the machine, hold it and stand while it’s operating.

“There are all of these little details we teach our guys,” Chisholm says. “We then encourage them to look for these things in the field and to hold each other accountable to safe practices.”

Once employees have learned the basics, Glass recommends putting them in a controlled environment to run the saw while trainers provide tips after each cut.

“It’s possible to overload a new user with a large amount of information, so we take baby steps to ease them into running the units,” Glass says. “You need to make sure they can do each step before moving to the next because if they do not have the basics down, you are setting them up for failure.”

Aspen Tree Expert provides a comprehensive refresher course to all employees once a year. Of the company’s 40 crew members, six of them are Certified Treecare Safety Professionals through the Tree Care Industry Association. This equates to about one certified professional on each crew who is expected to lead and oversee the rest of the team.

“Those people are held to a higher standard,” Chisholm says. “They not only have authority within the organization, but they have to gain certification units each year to uphold their credentials.”

Glass says this type of continuous professional training is important because experienced employees may get complacent over time.

“The stuff we run into most with seasoned users is bad habits — they forget how to safely start the chainsaw and become more careless, or they don’t wear all of their PPE because they haven’t needed it before,” Glass says. “We try to stress to the seasoned users that the new users look up to them for examples, and they need to set good ones.”

Regular maintenance also is important. Jay Larsen, global technical services manager of the forestry, lawn and garden division at Blount International, recommends daily cleaning of dust and debris from the machine and frequent inspection of the air filter. Operators should follow the gas and oil requirements as stated by the saw manufacturer. Proper upkeep and maintenance of PPE is just as crucial, Larsen says, adding that contractors should periodically inspect PPE for wear and replace when necessary.

“Chainsaws are incredible labor-saving tools; however, they can also be very dangerous,” he says. “Training should be ongoing and never one-and-done. Establish a company safety policy if you don’t have one already and do spot-check site visits to make sure crews are adhering to your safety standards.”

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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