Chainsaw Safety & Comfort: Tips & Tricks for Women

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Last week, about 20 people attended a Women’s Chainsaw Safety Course in North Carolina. During the course, the female instructors took the opportunity to point out a few extra things that women need to think about while running a chainsaw. While there are lots of safety precautions that everyone needs to follow when operating a chainsaw, there are some specific considerations women should keep in mind. To help with comfortable and safe chainsaw use, we have gathered a few of the tips and tricks we have gathered from women, for women.

Chainsaw selection – Find a saw that is the right size and type for you and the job(s) that you need to complete. Bigger is not always better, and whether you choose an electric or gas-powered saw will depend on your specific needs.

Ergonomics – Use the saw to work with your body, and let the saw do the work. Saws can get heavy for anyone, regardless of gender and body type, if they are used improperly. Be sure to have good posture while completing your saw work.  Improper handling can lead to strained back and arms.

Starting the saw – Many women prefer to pull the start cord with their stronger hand, which is usually the right hand. While some training videos show people using their left hand, this is not a requirement. Overly aggressive pull starts can cause injury to arms/shoulder if not done properly.

Hair – If you have long hair, be sure to pull it back into a ponytail, braid, or other arrangement that will keep it securely out of your way. Ideally, you should tuck it into your hard hat to ensure that it does not have an opportunity to get caught in the saw or distract you while you are using your saw.

Photo: Tucking your hair fully into a well-fitted hard hat ensures that it cannot get caught in vegetation or in the saw. Credit: Sarah Crate

Undergarments – Sports bras or racerback bras provide comfort and may make it easier for you to use your saw due to lack of straps sliding down your shoulders. Choose a bra and other undergarments that are not only comfortable, but that will prevent you from feeling the need to fidget or readjust while using your saw. Good support bras can also help lighten the burden on the back while sawing.

Outer garments – Be sure to wear clothes that are comfortable and that you can move freely in, but that are not so baggy or loose that they will interfere with your chainsaw operation.

Jewelry – Consider leaving all jewelry at home when planning saw work. Ear muffs can push earring backs into your head, leading to discomfort or pain. Metal rings on your fingers may become uncomfortable in your gloves and cause calluses, especially during the summer when your fingers may swell. Long necklaces or bracelets should not be worn as they could cause a distraction, get caught on limbs, vegetation or even worse, in the saw itself.

Photo: Removing your earrings before operating a saw will prevent ear muffs from pushing earring backs into your head, leading to discomfort or pain. Credit: Sarah Crate

PPE – When working with a chainsaw, personal protective equipment (PPE) is critical for safety. The basics include protection for your skull, eyes, ears, hands, legs and feet. But, be aware that because women are built differently than men, not all men’s gear will fit us properly. Be sure to take the time to find the PPE that works best for your comfort and safety. Below are some tips for women for various types of PPE.

Hard Hat – Women’s heads may be smaller than men’s. Be sure to wear a hard hat that is not only the proper size, but that can be tightened to fit your head snugly so that it stays on your head when you bend over. Be sure to clean the interior padding as needed, especially if you wear make-up as there have been reported cases of staff infections due to dirty padding.

Gloves – Women’s hands are typically smaller than men’s. Be sure to take the time to find a pair of gloves that fits you properly; this may require you to search for gloves that are made for women rather than a pair of men’s size small. You should be able to bend your fingers easily in order to get a good grip on the handle. The finger tips should not extend too far beyond your fingers. Ideally, you should find gloves that have Velcro or a strap to tighten around your wrist to stop debris from falling inside. Most choose simple leather gloves, but consider Kevlar if doing a lot of saw work regularly.

Eye protection – Be sure to find eye protection that fits you properly. For safety goggles, ensure that they are not too big around your head, and do not slide down your nose. Proper safety goggles for chainsaws should also have protection on the sides to block debris or saw dust. If you wear prescription glasses, there are safety goggles made to fit over prescription glasses. A face shield attached to the hard hat without safety glasses does not provide adequate eye protection.

Foot protection – Foot protection does not differ based on gender, other than the fact that women generally have smaller feet, and therefore may find it more difficult to find foot protection that fits properly. Sneakers or leather boots will not protect your feet from a moving chainsaw. The best kind of boot is one with Kevlar, a special fibrous material that will entangle a moving chain and stop it before serious injury occurs. Boots for chainsaw work should have a steel toe – to protect the foot if anything heavy drops on it – and steel shanks. Chainsaw boots provide the best protection as they provide full foot coverage. Alternatives, although with less protection, are steel-toed boots or steel toe covers. You can also combine steel-toed boots with Kevlar “booties,” which are liners that fit inside the boot.

Chaps/Pants – Again, be sure to find a pair that fits you properly, and that is suitable to the job planned (think coverage, material, quality). This means that you should be able to bend your knees easily, and the chaps or pants should not fit too loosely around your waist or legs. Most chaps come with adjustable straps that can be tightened or loosened as needed. The chaps should cover your leg from the hip to the top of your foot. Find a pair that is the right length so that you don’t leave a gap between the end of the chaps and the beginning of your boot. If you prefer chainsaw pants over chaps, consider using pants specifically for women since they are designed for a women's physique.

While these tips are meant to help with additional safety and comfort for women, there are many other resources available for general safety as well. Below are a few resources that you may find helpful.

 

Authors:

Jenn Fawcett, NCSU Extension Forestry, jlevans3@ncsu.edu

Laura Hendrick, NC Forest Service, laura.hendrick@ncagr.gov

Laurel Kays, NCSU Extension Forestry, lekays@ncsu.edu

Liz Snider, NCSU CNR Forest Assets, eclee2@ncsu.edu

Sarah Crate, NC Forest Service, sarah.crate@ncagr.gov