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Chainsaws: Do Arborists or Homeowners Have More Injuries?

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Chainsaws: Do Arborists or Homeowners Have More Injuries?

Can you use a chainsaw safely at home?

Many homeowners wonder: is it safe to operate a chainsaw yourself and prune your own trees? It’s a question for many thinking about how much tree trimming costs. You may want to save some money, or a tree pruning or removal job may look like a quick, simple task.

The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that chainsaw injuries send 36,000 Americans to the emergency room every year. Injuries spike after storms, when more people are out clearing storm damage. Statistics Canada doesn’t keep specific stats for chainsaw injuries, but over 225,000 Canadians ended up in hospital from injuries at home in 2018-2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Chainsaw Protective Gear and Maintenance

Many home and cottage owners have a chainsaw sitting around, but do you have the correct safety equipment? You may have considered gloves and eye protection, but you should also be wearing a hard hat, sturdy boots, ear protection, and chainsaw pants or chaps. Chainsaw pants and chaps are filled with fibers that will clog up a saw’s chain and stop it moving if the chainsaw comes in contact with your legwear.

A common hazard with chainsaws is that the old chainsaw sitting in the shed or garage only gets used once every few years and isn’t well-maintained (or possibly, up to today’s safety standards). The saw teeth should be sharp and the blade should be lubricated to avoid injury from using dull equipment. If you’re working with Dad’s or Grandpa’s old saw because it’s the only thing around, it may also not be the right size for the job.

Invasive species norway maple split in half after and fell over in a wind storm, backyard toronto

How Do Arborists Use Saws Safely?

Tree care professionals have training in safe chainsaw operation and are equipped with all the necessary safety equipment. Since our saws are used daily, they receive regular maintenance, and we have a variety of saws to ensure we use the right size for your job.

Workers undergo regular safety training, and most tree service shops have regular safety meetings to discuss safe operating protocols and proper use of PPE. Crews will assess site safety before beginning work and have plans in place in the event of an emergency on site.

Injuries do occur, but chainsaw injuries are in the minority of workplace injuries in arboriculture due to safety standards and careful operation. One American study found 40% of chainsaw injuries were injuries to the legs: an injury that’s most likely to occur with homeowners, who often don’t own chainsaw pants or chaps, as opposed to professional tree workers who wear protective legwear as their standard work attire.

How to Use a Chainsaw Safely

Tree stump in winter recently cut for tree felling with chainsaw sitting peside it on snow

Some of the other risks homeowners face are related to climbing and heights.While arborists work with ropes and rigging lines to keep themselves stable in high tree branches or on a roof, homeowners may be tempted to use a ladder to reach higher branches.

This is a major risk with chainsaws, as an unstable ladder, kickback from a saw, falling branches, or loss of footing could lead to a very dangerous accident. People holding ladders for a chainsaw user have also been injured by falling debris.

If you can’t safely reach the branch you’re trying to cut from a stable surface, it’s best to contact a Toronto arborist service that’s equipped with the right tools and experience for working at heights.

Power lines are another major source of danger, especially if trying to clear up after a storm. Never attempt to work near a power line yourself. Always call a trained professional for any tree pruning near power lines or storm cleanup near live or downed lines.

Felling Trees and Branches

Trees have a natural direction of fall, which may be difficult for homeowners to detect. You can find this by looking at the way the tree leans. The tree falling in an unexpected direction is another major hazard.

With tree limbs and branches, they may swing in unexpected directions while cutting with a chainsaw or fall faster than expected. Many people don’t realize how heavy branches are, and this can easily catch someone by surprise while trimming branches. A professional tree crew will rig a large branch with ropes to safely direct its fall.

DIY Tree Trimming

If your tree pruning job is small, you have a chainsaw in safe working order, you own or have borrowed proper safety gear, and you’re confident you can make the cuts safely at ground level, take these safety precautions before and while operating a chainsaw:

  • Make sure you’ve read the manual for your chainsaw and understand how to operate it
  • Check the controls, chain tension, sharpness and lubrication
  • Ensure the fuel you’re using meets the manufacturer’s specifications and that you fuel a gas-powered saw at least 3m from sources of ignition
  • Avoid loose clothing and hair
  • Wear gloves with tight grips so that you don’t lose your grip on your saw As when cutting with a sharp knife, never cut towards yourself
  • Make sure you keep the area clear of  hazards, branches, brush, et cetera as you’re working. It’s important to keep a safe path clear in the event of an accident
  • Never cut over your head or on a ladder
  • Make sure you’re using the chainsaw a minimum of 3m away from anyone else in the area

When to Call a Professional

If you have a bigger job to do, a high-up branch you want to remove, or need to work anywhere near electrical wires, the safest thing to do is find a local arborist in the GTA. Tragically, a study by the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) found that over half of chainsaw accidents involving homeowners and non-professionals reported in the media in one year were fatal. The dangers of working with a chainsaw without proper training and protection are real.

Leave the dangerous work to trained tree experts — contact Vista Tree today for a quote for your tree removal or tree cutting job.

author avatar
Michael Co-Founder
Michael is a Certified Arborist and founder of the company. He holds a Certificate in Urban Arboriculture (Honours) from Humber College, Certificate in Project Leadership from Cornell, has post-graduate studies in Urban Forestry and Arboriculture from Oregon State College of Foresty and holds a BAH in Ancient History with a minor in Business. In addition to being an ISA Certified Arborist, he is a TCIA Certified Tree Safety Professional, Tree Appraisal Qualified by Arboriculture Canada and holds a Landscape Exterminator license. Michael sat on the Board of Director for the Ontario Commercial Arborist Association in 2022 and 2023. He worked at some of the top arboriculture companies in Southern Ontario before starting Vista Tree Management. Before that, he was an award-winning Executive Director in the nonprofit sector and published marketing consultant. On the rare days off, Michael can be found at home with his family - a loving wife, two daughters and two cats in Central Toronto.
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