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Chainsaw Safety – before and after the storm

Someone once said the only difference between a Colt 45 pistol and a chainsaw is that anyone can buy and operate a chainsaw. No license is required; there is no test to take, class to complete, or competency to demonstrate. The similarity is that both can kill or injury in a split second. This is particularly evident after a storm.

When looking at chainsaw accident reports, a definite spike follows storms. This isn’t so much because of the difficult timber salvage or yard-tree cleanup situations loggers or tree-workers have to work in after a storm, but because of ill-equipped and untrained occasional users doing their own clean-up.

If you own a chain saw, chances are you’ve never received training on safe chainsaw use. Maybe you’ve read the safety manual that is supposed to come with a new saw purchase, maybe you haven’t. Additionally, you probably didn’t purchase the appropriate personal protective equipment, which, frankly, should be part and parcel with a saw purchase.

Using a saw is like anything else: get dressed for the job. I cringe watching the news after a storm has toppled trees. I have yet to see a do-it-yourselfer appropriately dressed. Often it seems they’ve made a special effort to dress dangerously, like in shorts and flip-flops.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

Head, eye, and ear protection is essential. You might be surprised to know that a significant portion of chainsaw-related accidents don’t actually involve direct saw injury. It doesn’t take much of a branch from overhead to kill someone. Hard hats have prevented many deaths and would have prevented many more if everyone put one on before they pick up a saw.

Eye protection should be obvious. An interruption to your work is the best-case scenario, worst case, you lose your sight. It’s not just sawdust, either. Branches of fallen trees are often under tremendous stress that, when released, can hit you in your face or other areas with tremendous force.

Ear protection is often neglected, but not until regretted years later. Ear loss is cumulative in nature and permanent. If you’ve ever experienced a ringing in your ears after a day of working around something loud, that’s a symptom of permanent hearing loss. With a chainsaw, it’s not only what you hear in the engine, but what you don’t hear. The metal on metal as chain moves around bar produces a high-pitch that human ears cannot hear, but still does damage.

Next is to protect the mostly likely place to be in direct contact with the chainsaw, your legs. Chaps or chainsaw-resistant pants are made with ballistic nylon or Kevlar, and they are as effective at stopping a moving chain as they are at stopping bullets. People complain about chaps being too hot … I guess the choice is yours, sweat or blood. If you get off with just needing stitches, consider yourself lucky. If you cut the femoral artery running on the inside of your leg straight to your heart, chose your steps carefully because you only have about 15 of them left.

The next item is proper footwear. At a minimum, good, sturdy boots should be worn. Even better is to wear steel-toed or chainsaw-resistant boots. Absolutely no tennis shoes, flip-flops, sandals, or running shoes!

The most important piece of safety equipment is your brain. Accidents are much more likely to happen when you are hurried, fatigued, or otherwise not thinking clearly. Make sure you are well rested, clear-minded, and not rushed when using a power saw. A good mind and the personal protective equipment outlined above will give you every advantage should an accident happen.

THE SAW

Today’s saws are more powerful, lighter, faster, safer, and more ergonomic than saws of yesteryear. Anti-vibration, brakes, and guards are some of the newer features vastly improved upon in the past decade. Less vibration results in less fatigue, and less fatigue means fewer accidents.

Halfway decent saws have a chain-brake built into them that is activated by a sudden change in motion or by the wrist coming into contact with the brake lever, such as might happen with kickback. This brake is meant to be used. Anytime you take more than two steps, engage the brake to avoid accidental chain acceleration.

The guards on a saw are to stop the chain from whipping you in the event it breaks. That’s a good thing considering there is no getting out of the way of something just a few feet from you that’s moving at 200 mph and lined with razor-sharp teeth.

Speaking of razor-sharp teeth, a sharp and well-running saw is safer than something you have to fight with to get the same amount of work done. Keep your saw in good running order and know how to sharpen your chain or keep an extra one on hand in the event you run the saw into the dirt or otherwise dull the teeth. A dull chain is exhausting.

OPERATION

Once you’ve got on the right garb, and the saw is in tip-top shape, it’s time to get to work. Most people start their saws in an unsafe and tiresome way that can also be hard on the saw. The “drop-start” is an old favorite, but a good way to break the rope, wear out your upper body, and get hurt by a live machine you only have one hand on. Proper starting sets the saw on the ground, with one foot on the hand guard and one hand on the upper grip, and pulls on the rope.

Secondly, don’t work from a ladder and don’t saw overhead. If you have stuff to cut that is higher than your shoulders, consider getting a professional involved. Ladders and saws just don’t work together, and trying to use a saw over your head is asking for trouble.

The first power saws required two men to operate because of their weight, and you would never have lifted them over your shoulder. Even though today’s saws don’t require two operators and they are easily lifted overhead, it’s a good idea to have a buddy around. If something happens, you might not be able to get the help you need by yourself. If nothing happens, you’ll get the job done more quickly anyway.

Chainsaw are extremely useful and powerful tools. They need to be respected every time they are used. Proper attire and intelligent operation goes a long way toward safe and enjoyable use. Again, use your brain. A big part of this is to know and respect your limits. There is something macho about using a saw which can be an impediment to good judgment. It’s more macho to be in one piece at the end of the day rather than a hospital bed or worse. Be careful; be smart.

Written by Adam K. Downing
Extension Agent, Forestry & Natural Resources
Virginia Cooperative Extension

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Storm Damage: Forests and Trees

High winds and saturated soils can result in damage to forest and yard trees. With Hurricane Florence approaching Virginia and the Carolina’s, you may be wondering what to do.

Let’s talk about trees in a forest first. Natural disasters such as hurricanes are a natural part of the environment. In many cases, if the forest is otherwise healthy and vigorous, damage may be limited to isolated pockets. In some cases, however, extensive damage may result in financial loss, hazardous situations, and heartache at seeing your forest dramatically changed.

If, after the storm, you feel you have significant damage to your forest, your first call should be to your local Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) office. They can provide preliminary assessments of loss and advise you on clean-up and/or salvage operations. These numbers may be useful when tax season rolls around to be able to claim casualty loss.

Timber salvage may be appropriate if you have high value timber on the ground or significantly damage standing timber. This option can help minimize financial loss and make the woods safer after the storm has passed. A storm damaged woodlot is very dangerous and should only be entered with extreme caution, proper protection gear, and with experience. Even within the first year, hazards from fallen trees can make your forest a dangerous place.

If you have damage to trees in your yard, some of the same principals apply, such as the need to determine the amount of damage and put a dollar value on it. The best way to determine the decrease in the fair market value of the property is with a complete appraisal. The fees for this are deductible under expenses incurred to determine tax liability. In some cases, clean-up, repair, and replacement costs on the damaged landscape may also be used. You should also review a copy of your homeowners insurance to know what your coverage is.

In terms of repairing the damage to your landscape, safety is again of utmost importance. The first thing many people do is grab the chain saw. If you only have small branches (4” or less), use lopping shears and hand saws instead. An injury is the last thing you need after a disaster has hit, and most chain saw injuries happen to fatigued homeowners.

If you decide to use a power saw, wear proper protective equipment (eye protection, ear protection, hardhat, non-slip gloves, chain saw pants or chaps, heavy-duty boots, and trim- fitting clothes). Before starting the saw, make sure the chain is sharp (less tiring to use), and the saw is properly fueled and oiled. To start the saw, place it firmly on the ground with chain break engaged, one foot in the handle (if possible), one hand on the top of the handle, and pull the starter cord firmly with the other hand. “Drop starting” is the most dangerous way to start your saw. Do not do it!

While cutting, make sure you have firm footing, don’t reach above your shoulder to cut, saw with the lower part of the bar close to the bumper, not on the top near the nose, and avoid kickback by keeping the tip (upper ¼) of the blade free from twigs, branches and other debris.

Damage to small trees can often be easily corrected. Newly planted trees or shrubs, which are tilted, may be reset and staked. You may trim partially damaged trees or shrubs with proper pruning equipment and practices (go to https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/ for information on pruning and other landscape practices). If some plants are beyond repair, complete removal may be necessary. Deciduous trees and shrubs, however, will often sprout back in the spring if a clean cut is made close to the ground. Otherwise, you may want to use the opportunity to replace the plant with something different.

Lastly, extensive landscape damage sometimes necessitates the use of heavy equipment. As much as possible, don’t allow heavy equipment to move close to the trunks of remaining shrubs or trees, for the resulting root damage will cause loss in the coming years.

No matter if your trees are part of a forest or your landscape, it is very important to keep records! Inventories that might be part of a forest management plan can be very useful in determining base values of forestland. Recent pictures of your mature landscaping might be important to verify “before damage” value. Keep receipts and copies of newspaper articles as evidence of the causality.

In closing, count your blessing if the only thing damaged in this year’s storms can be tallied with dollar signs. Trees and shrubs can be replanted, a forest will regenerate, and houses can be rebuilt, but a life lost cannot be recovered. Be safe and help others.

Written by Adam K. Downing
Extension Agent, Forestry & Natural Resources
Virginia Cooperative Extension

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Online course for Virginia forest landowners begins May 15

people standing in woods

Course participants may attend an optional field trip. Retired forester Charlie Huppuch (left) explains concepts of active forest management to participants.

Virginia forest landowners looking to gain an understanding of how to keep their woods healthy and productive can do so in the comfort of their own home.

Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment are offering an online course to help private landowners become better stewards of their land.

The 12-week Online Woodland Options for Landowners course, which runs from May 15 to Aug. 4, teaches basic management principles and techniques for both novice and veteran private forest landowners. Materials provided include four reference books and access to an online a tree identification tutorial.

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Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference set for Jan. 28

Last year’s Beef Cattle Health Conference set an attendance record with more than 300 cattle producers and students participating in lectures and demonstrations.

Last year’s Beef Cattle Health Conference set an attendance record with more than 300 cattle producers and students participating in lectures and demonstrations.

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Farm Credit are hosting the Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference on Jan. 28 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Designed to give beef cattle producers an opportunity to learn strategies to improve the health of their herds, the conference will take place in the auditorium at Virginia Tech’s Litton-Reaves Hall, located at 175 West Campus Drive.

The conference will open with presentations from three faculty members in the veterinary college’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

John Currin, clinical associate professor of production management medicine, will speak about the Veterinary Feed Directive, a new Food and Drug Administration approval process for the use of antibiotics in animal feed. Sierra Guynn, clinical assistant professor, will give presentations on pinkeye and fly control.

Following a morning break, the conference will feature special guest Andrew Griffith, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Tennessee, who will discuss the economic outlook for the beef cattle industry. Morgan Paulette, an agriculture and natural resources Extension agent for Pulaski County, will then give an update on the New River Valley’s Virginia Quality Assured program.

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Brandon Monk named Virginia FFA executive director

Brandon Monk

Brandon H. Monk

Brandon H. Monk has been named executive director of Virginia FFA.

The high school agricultural educator, who hails from Frederick County, Virginia, enters his new role as executive director with experience in Virginia FFA program development and working with the National FFA organization as a conference facilitator.

“FFA is primed for growth in Virginia,” Monk said. “Now, more than ever, our industry leaders, government officials, and secondary education administrators are looking for hands-on opportunities to engage students in practical skills that translate into career success. FFA and agricultural education programs have been providing that platform for years. I am looking forward to doing our part as an association to share the story of youth in agriculture as we grow leaders.”

The National FFA Organization is committed to the individual student and provides a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.

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