The photo below triggered a response from an arborist colleague, saying “This was on my FB feed. Not a good look using a top handle on the ground, also in close proximity to other workers.” We appreciate the feedback as it helps us improve our performance. So, what is wrong with the scene in this photo?
The worker closest to the camera is using a compact designed saw commonly known as the top handle or top handle chainsaw for delimbing debris on the ground in a tree removal operation.
This is the incorrect use of the top handle saw according to the Good Practice Guide for Safety Requirements in New Zealand Arboricultural Operations (NZ Arb GPG) (https://www.nzarb.org.nz/Safety++Compliance/Guides/Good+Practice+Guide.html) and the manufacturer’s user manual. Husqvarna T540 XP Operator’s Manual (https://www.manualslib.com/download/636394/Husqvarna-T540-Xp.html)
The second worker behind the first worker is waiting for a limb to be cut so that he can carry it to the brushwood chipper. The NZ Arb GPG states in paragraph 24.5 “Chainsaw operators should not use a chainsaw to make cuts within 1.5m of any other person.”
So, what did we do with this constructive criticism?
First, we started an investigation in “how did it happen that we were using a top handle chainsaw on the ground? And did the workers stand too close together?”
The investigation started at our safety meeting with an open discussion about the safe use of chainsaws and then moved on to discuss the specific safety requirements around the top handle chainsaw.
What we discovered was that most crew members were aware of the regulation to not use the top handle saw on the ground but that this rule was not being enforced by the leadership team, so a casual attitude towards the regulation had developed.
Also, the crew members mentioned that sometimes, there had not been enough light-weight ground saws available on the jobsite to ensure a productive work flow.
This led to crew members using top handle saws for cutting up wood and delimbing debris.
Regarding the safety distance between the two workers, we agreed at the safety meeting that the photo does not reflect the distance accurately.
The crew members are more than 1.5m apart, they are looking at each other and no crew member is in a position where they would be struck by the chain if it broke. We concluded that the work practice displayed by the crew was good.
The NZ Arb GPG paraph 24.8 states that “top handled chainsaws shall not be used on the ground”, yet in our safety meeting, we discussed situations where the use of the top handle saw on the ground seemed to be the safer option. We decided to go back to the user manual from the manufacturer to get more clarification on this point.
What the manufacturer says:
Husqvarna T540 XP Operator’s Manual (https://www.manualslib.com/download/636394/Husqvarna-T540-Xp.html)
This top handle chainsaw is designed speciﬁcally for tree surgery and maintenance in the tree. Due to the special compact handle design (closely spaced handles), there is an increased risk of losing control. For this reason these special chainsaws should be used only for work in a tree by persons who are trained in special cutting and working techniques and who are properly secured (lift bucket, ropes, safety harness).
STIHL MS 201 TC M Owners Instruction Manual
This lightweight top handle chain saw is designed specifically for in-tree surgery and maintenance. Due to its light weight and special compact handle design it is particularly useful in confined spaces such as in-tree work where great manoeuvrability is required. For other uses, however, a saw with wider handle spacing will normally provide greater control. If the operator is not properly secured for two-hand use, there is an increased risk of injury when working in a tree from loss of control.
This increased risk includes injuries due to not having a firm grip on the saw in case of reactive forces or to loss of control of the saw, leading, e.g., to leg injuries from the chain saw “dropping” at the end of the cut. For this reason these special chainsaws should be used only for work in a tree by persons who are trained in special cutting and working techniques and who are properly secured (lift bucket, ropes, safety harness).
We agreed after reviewing this information that we would need to develop our own procedure for the use of the top handle chainsaw.
The following rules have now been implemented at Pro Climb.
1. At Pro Climb we allow the use of top handle chainsaws for tree pruning and tree dismantling if it is considered the most productive and safest tool for the job.
2. This means that workers can use the top handle chainsaw for pruning work when standing on the ground if it will ensure a higher quality pruning cut or is considered safer than using a rear handle saw. No top handle saw shall be used for any other cutting work on the ground.
So what changes did we make at Pro Climb?
- We implemented specific rules around the use of the top handle chainsaw.
- We increased the amount of light-weight rear handle saws on the crews.
- We increased the number of safety and quality audits.
- We are in the process of implementing a new job management software that will help us ensure that the crews have all the gear they need on site to do the work safely.
- We are in the process of implementing a new training system that will allow senior staff to spend more time with the crews.
A small comment can have a big impact on the development of a business. We could have just let the comment go and do nothing or even worse, react in an offended manner. But none of those reactions would push our business forward and make us safer or better tomorrow. At Pro Climb we have developed a culture that allows employees to speak up, we listen to our clients and we aim to do better tomorrow. We really appreciate constructive feedback because it allows us to improve.
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