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This article was originally published on the web at cranbrookengineering.co.uk however that website is defunct at April 2013. The copyright is with the original owners of cranbrookengineering.co.uk

Safety in the garden and forest

Let's begin by making the point that safe usage of chainsaws, brushcutters, etc. is firstly to do with handling them sensibly, secondly about good design of the tool and only thirdly about safety equipment. Personal Protective Equipment is vital, but it is the last line of defence if the first two fail.

Unfortunately many terms are used to describe equipment designed to protect you when using machinery, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Protective Clothing, Safety Clothing or Safety Equipment. PPE is reckoned to be the official term and is the one the Health & Safety Executive uses (see link at the bottom of this article).

Please check the latest regulations and do not take the following information as necessarily fully authoritative.

Chainsaw protection

The most dangerous tool is a chainsaw. The way to avoid injury is to purchase a modern saw with all the latest safety devices, to take some training and to think before you cut. However, there are ways to reduce injury if it all goes wrong one day: clothing with chainsaw protection is available.

For many years it has been possible to buy clothing with chain mail protection. It is heavy and cumbersome. Another solution is to make garments with the fabric lining made from layers of light, long fibres. If a saw cuts the fabric, it draws in bundles of fibres which quickly clog and stop the chain. This blocking material can be applied to jackets, trousers, boots and gloves.

There are European Directives and European Standards applying to chainsaw protection. They define four classes of protection from Class 0 to Class 3 for different chain speeds. The most demanding is a chain speed up to 28m/s. Stihl neatly define two practical grades of clothing: one is for normal forestry by trained workers, where the legs are protected at the front; the other is for persons not normally working with chainsaws or for exceptional circumstances, where the legs are protected at front and rear. A jacket with the protection system is also recommended.

This leads to a straightforward statement of what you should wear:

  1. If you are a professional - a protective helmet complete with mesh visor and ear defenders; goggles; jacket with or without protection; chainsaw mittens or gloves with blocking material; protective trousers; chainsaw boots with inlay of blocking material.
  2. At the minimum (HSE recommendation), which would apply to the average DIY case - a protective helmet complete with mesh visor and ear defenders; goggles; chainsaw mittens or gloves with blocking material; trousers or over-trousers with protection at front and rear; protective gaiters with blocking material (and industrial boots with steel toe caps where there is no tripping hazard).

Protecting yourself

PPE is without doubt a good investment. What price your eyes or your hearing in older age?

Head Protection

The earliest hard hat for use in an industrial setting was apparently made of canvas, glue and paint in the 1920s. Subsequently metal was used, then rigid plastic from the 1960s. They are now quite sophisticated, being available with or without built in ear defenders and various sorts of visor. A typical Stihl helmet is made of ABS with a metal visor and ear protection. Hard hats are zero rated for VAT in Britain.

Goggles and Safety Glasses. Early goggles were made of metal, leather and glass. The glass lens was made safe against splintering by laminating it with a flexible layer such as cellophane. Now plastic is used, which is safer but still not always satisfactory. Even the best plastic scratches easily, and we have all experienced the annoyance of goggles misting up as soon as you start to exert yourself. One solution is to fit 'double glazing' lenses so that the inner one is warm and in theory does not allow water vapour to condense.

Visors. These can be steel or nylon mesh or clear plastic. Goggles should be worn in addition when working with grass trimmers, brushcutters, scrub cutters, lawn edgers, clearing saws, hedge trimmers, blowers and cut-off saws.

Hearing Protection

All machinery affects your hearing, depending on its volume and duration of exposure. For that matter, so does loud music. The effect is cumulative and irreversible. Even mowing the lawn adds to the damage. A common result of failing to protect hearing is that, in middle or old age, words don't lose their volume but they become indistinct. This is the written equivalent of noise-induced deafness:
"You c.n.. ..i.e m..e .u. wha. th.. means"

Half the nation seems doomed to go deaf unless more attention is paid to the ears. Such deafness is a serious disability: for a few pounds it is worth avoiding. Ear defenders can be bought separately or attached to a helmet; or acoustic ear plugs are effective if fitted right.

Protective Gloves and Mitten

For chainsawing, these have chain mail on the back or blocking material built in to the layers of fabric.

Outer Clothing

In the paragraphs on chainsaw protection we have explained how outer garments can keep you a bit safer, without affording complete protection. Jackets, trousers, bib-and-brace and coverall suits are all available.

The trousers are rather special because they have all-round chainsaw protection while still allowing good knee flexibility. For these reasons tree surgeons, who have to scramble about in the branches, choose them. Some clothing is fully waterproof, the best types breathe to let out your sweat, and many have high visibility panels. Note that high visibility is achieved by day using fluorescent material, whereas at night the material must be retro-reflective to show up under headlights.

Boots

Rubber or leather boots are commonly supplied for industrial use with steel toecaps. In the chainsaw scenario, buy boots with blocking material built in. Some are also made of cut-resistant leather.

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