How To Protect Yourself From Danger When Preparing To Cut Up A Downed Tree

Once a tree is felled and is ready to be cut into more manageable pieces, it is easy to think the dangerous part of the job has passed. However, cutting up a downed tree can be a deadly experience if a do-it-yourselfer fails to take safety into full consideration. In fact, before you even begin cutting up the tree, you need to be prepared physically and mentally from a safety standpoint:

Prepare physically - Wear the right safety gear

Like any job involving the use of power tools and handling heavy objects that can crush and kill you, safe tree trimming requires that individuals equip themselves with the appropriate safety gear before commencing. Even if you aren't the person who sawed down the tree, you still have a personal obligation to wear several pieces of safety equipment during the ground work. Here is the necessary gear for a home or land owner using a chainsaw to cut downed timber:

  • Helmet or hardhat - Much of the danger associated with tree cutting and trimming comes from above. Loose limbs and branches in neighboring trees, also ominously called "widowmakers" in the logging industry, can cause severe head injuries if they fall and strike the top of your unprotected head. That's why you should always wear headgear designed to protect the top of your head from heavy objects, even after the tree has been felled. For example, if the falling tree snagged and broke a neighboring tree's branch, the branch may fall if a gust of wind dislodges it.

  • Heavy gloves - Chainsaw gloves are ideal for use in cutting up limbs since they protect your hands from blisters and their padded backs give you extra protection in case of accidental contact with the chain. If you don't have them available, be sure to wear heavy duty leather work gloves at the very least. Avoid loose-fitting gloves that can snag and trap your hands.

  • Leg protection - If a chainsaw binds and kicks back, the chain can strike your vulnerable legs. That's why investing in a pair of chainsaw chaps or pants is a smart move; these protective pieces of clothing contain cut-resistant fibers that can either minimize or prevent a cutting injury to your legs. Blue jeans don't offer the same protection available from chainsaw chaps, but they are superior to wearing shorts; in fact, never operate a chainsaw with your legs fully exposed.

  • Boots - Leather boots with slip-resistant soles are a must, and steel-toed boots provide extra protection in case of accidental contact with your feet. Make sure the boots you purchase fit well and aren't too loose. Keep your boot laces tied tight and don't allow the loose ends to dangle and risk getting hung on an object, causing you to trip while cutting.

  • Safety glasses or goggles - Safety glasses are a vital component to wear when cutting up trunks and limbs on the ground. High-speed, flying woodchips can cause more than eye irritation; they can permanently blind you. As such be sure that any eyeglasses you purchase meet ANSI standards for shatter resistance.

  • Ear muffs - It's no secret that chainsaws are loud pieces of equipment, and while you may not notice the immediate effects of extreme noise, exposure to the high volume generated by chainsaw engines can gradually reduce your hearing ability. Always wear ear muffs designed for noise protection; avoid using ear plugs alone, as they don't always have the necessary protective qualities to keep your ears safe.

Prepare mentally - Survey the scene

A lot of accidents happen due to tunnel vision, a phenomenon caused by focusing on one narrow aspect and failing to see other lurking dangers. When you are ready to cut up a tree, you need to consider these potential hazards by assessing the scene. There are a couple of hidden forces at work, even in a downed tree, that can cause sudden movement and potential injury to you:

  • Twisting or rolling forces - These occur whenever a tree is unstable on a slope or is resting on an object, including its own branches, that might make it suddenly roll. Always carefully look for this potential danger, and be sure to position yourself on the side opposite of where the tree may roll to keep yourself safe.

  • Binding forces - When trees fall, the trunk or branches may not fall into a resting position on the ground. Instead, they may be trapped and cause a binding in the wood, much the same as that which occurs in a bow. Handling and cutting the tree may release this energy and cause parts of the tree to "lash" outward and into your working space. Know where these areas are, and work in spaces away from potential zones of movement.

For more information, safety tips, or if you feel you cannot safely cut the tree on your own, talk with a professional tree service, such as Smitty's Tree Service Inc