Although safety is always important when pruning trees, I worry the most when we have a winter storm — whether it brings wind, heavy snow loads, or ice that coats and weighs the branches to breakage.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 36,000 people are treated each year for chain-saw-related injuries, and the risk increases after storms where tree damage has occurred.
You can reduce the potential for damage to the trees by following good maintenance practices when the weather is fairer, and you can reduce the potential for damage to yourself and your property by following these few safety tips.
First, look up and look around. If there are utility lines running through the tree, you are at high risk for electrocution if you’re doing any kind of pruning in the tree. If the line is a service line that runs only to your house, your utility provider may be willing to take the line down at a scheduled time and put it back up when the pruning is complete. If the line(s) serve multiple properties, consult an arborist.
Even if the utility lines are a little ways away, but close enough that a branch could come into contact with them on its way down, avoid taking the chance being electrocuted by having the line dropped or hiring a professional.
Besides utility lines, consider what the branches you want to prune could fall on and damage. Maybe the lawn is a low priority, but the neighbor really likes his shed and would be upset if you dropped a tree limb on it. Trees can be unpredictable at times, even to experienced professionals, because of the physics of weight, growth habit and unforeseen decay. In cases where trees are under tension from ice, snow or are supporting other branches, the risk of the tree or branch doing something unexpected is even higher.
Second, hire a professional if possible. I understand the desire to do it yourself, but sometimes the risks outweigh the potential benefits. I have heard too many stories about trees falling on roofs and cars to know this is true — the damages are most often more than what the certified arborist would have charged for the work.
Arborists who are certified by the Kansas Arborists Association (KAA) have been through a training course, have two years of experience in the field, and have references from two other arborists. They are also required to carry insurance to remain certified with the association. Arborists who are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) have passed a comprehensive exam, have three years experience in the field. Both KAA and ISA have continuing education requirements for arborists to remain certified.
Third, if you are going to do the work yourself, use the following with your chain saw: hard hat, protective shield for face or safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, chaps made especially for chain saw use, and boots (steel toe preferred).
This might seem like a lot, but, again, it’s likely cheaper than the repair or doctor bill if something goes wrong. You should also avoid baggy clothes that can get hung up on brush or worse, in the saw itself.
Although all of the personal protective equipment is important, chain saw chaps are one item I see people ignore. Chain saw chaps are made from material that is cut-resistant and will protect your legs from waist to ankle — probably the most likely area for injury from the chain saw itself.
Finally, always make sure to keep the saw properly maintained, including the right bar oil and a sharp chain, keep two hands on the saw, only cut when you have stable footing, and avoid cutting above shoulder height.