One-handing…the other pandemic

Usually I find arborists (real arborists) to be among the most safety-conscious people there are. Usually when there’s an OSHA rule or an ANSI Z133 requirement, I find arborists trying to comply and do the right thing.

Usually. As an industry and as a profession, in the U.S. anyway, we are way out of whack with the OSHA and Z133 requirement to keep two hands on the chain saw. Defiantly so, in some cases. Why is it that so many really competent professionals choose to disobey this rule here in the U.S.?

What do I base this on? I’m the person who approves or rejects TCIA Members’ websites for a link directly from the TCIA site, and the basis for this decision in the Member site’s portrayal of recognized professional practices. If they show rampant tree topping, no PPE on workers or other non-compliant practices, they’re out. Depictions of one-handed chain saw use, in either videos or photos, are one of the main reasons I have to reject sites.

I’m also in the field fairly frequently, and I read the social media posts and hear the conversations at industry events. One-handing is at epidemic proportions.

I was serving on the Z133 Committee when the decision was made to change the two-hands-on-the-saw requirement from “shall, with exceptions” to “shall – no exceptions” and there was intense debate. The main argument from the one-handers was that the operator can be trained to competently cut with one hand. The main argument from the two-handers was that, in the U.S. anyway, we didn’t have standards establishing minimum levels of training or demonstrated competence for chainsaw operators. Without those things, the easier fix to the problem was to tell people to keep two hands on the saw.

I’m not an expert on the topic as it applies to other parts of the world, but it seems that in places like the U.K. and Canada (where the standards are in English and I can read them!), greater emphasis is placed on the competence of the operator and additional PPE, as compared to the U.S. How is that working for them? I don’t have the boots-on-ground experience or the data to be able to answer that.

Experience – the school of hard knocks – can be a great teacher, but can you afford the lesson? I’ve had very skilled arborists show me the scars on their left arm, wrist or hand. They were forever changed but didn’t necessarily stop one-handing. They became the example for those coming after them, and what example did they set?

I once sat in an office with a 23-year-old climber and his boss, discussing the climber’s future. He loved climbing, loved his job, loved the company employing him. But the thing was, in a moment of inattentiveness months before, he’d reached across his saw with his left hand to grab a branch and planted the saw chain in his wrist. Despite months of healing and rehab, he would likely never be a production climber again. At 23.

The other part of it is that I’ve seen very competent people make silly mistakes. It only takes that split second of inattention or distraction. Regardless of your position on the issue, it’s hard to argue the point that you cannot cut your left arm if your left hand is on the chain saw handle, fingers and thumbs wrapped around it.

Whether it’s in response to this rant or elsewhere in our magazine, on this site, or at future meeting of arborists, I’d love to see someone explore all the alternatives to one-handing a chain saw, or lay out how to create a journey worker status for the chainsaw operator that permits them to operate one-handed in certain circumstances. Until we fully explore one or both of these paths, I say keep two hands on your saw. As it is with face coverings in that other pandemic, you may not necessarily be doing it for your own benefit as much as the good of others around you. In OUR pandemic, the others I’m referring to are the up-and-coming arborists looking for the example you set.

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