Common Sense Can Prevent Accidents

Widwomaker limb

Experts caution against working under trees with broken limbs suspended in other branches. Often nicknamed "widowmakers," these limbs can cause serious injury and even death if they happen to land on you when they fall. Photo courtesy UTIA.

From late winter throughout the spring, the Volunteer State is subject to any number of weather-related emergencies, many of which have residents and emergency personnel reaching for a chain saw. University of Tennessee Extension safety specialist Tim Prather cautions that the handy tools can cause even more heartache during the aftermath of any disaster, such as an ice storm, tornado or flood.

“I see many people using chain saws and other power equipment without proper clothing and safety gear,” Prather said. “We all recognize chain saws as being powerful and aggressive tools, yet many people are at risk of serious injuries from misusing the tool or from their general surroundings. Cleaning up after disasters is dangerous. During February’s ice storm we had at least one fatality due to being struck by falling limbs.”

Prather reminds residents of these guidelines for safer use of chain saws:

*Recognize that not only is the chain saw operator at risk, others in the vicinity can be injured by limbs or debris thrown by trees as they fall.  Everyone in the area must wear proper clothing and safety gear.

*Everyone in the area must always wear an approved hard hat! Even small debris striking you in the head can cause traumatic brain injuries. It may also momentarily disorient you and cause you to be injured by the saw or other objects.

*Proper footwear includes sturdy shoes or boots with non-slip soles. Steel-toe safety shoes or boots are recommended. If properly sized you won’t feel the toe cap. The toe cap withstands more than 1,500 pounds, so imagine what your foot would look like without its protection!

*Eye protection is vital. You are at risk of chips from the saw as well as twigs and other objects. Consider a mesh face shield for your hard hat because it will not fog up like goggles and is comfortable for those who wear glasses.

*Hearing protection, whether ear plugs or muffs, prevent noise-induced hearing loss. A chain saw is loud enough to cause hearing damage in just a few minutes, even for bystanders. Hearing protection also reduces the saw noise to a level safe for your ears, and you can actually better hear unusual sounds and warnings if your inner ear is not overwhelmed.

*Gloves with leather palms can absorb some of the vibration from the saw. They can also help protect you from scrapes and abrasions from your surroundings. You can get gloves with Kevlar padding to provide even more protection from cuts.

*Kevlar chaps prevent cuts and scrapes from limbs, thorns, etc., but, they are designed to protect you from incidental contact with the moving saw chain. They cannot provide absolute protection from a saw under full throttle, but many cuts to the legs are from a coasting chain after a cut is completed or situations such as stumbling or falling. Prather highly recommend chaps.

*Make sure the saw is in good working order and properly sharpened. Ornery or dull saws slow you down and if you get frustrated you might mistakes. Have a spare chain and tools with you so you can quickly make repairs and safely return to work.

*What dulls a saw faster than anything else? Hitting a steel wedge or other hard objects. Plastic wedges are inexpensive and can prevent costly downtime, yet are strong enough for serious blows with a heavy sledge hammer.

Prather adds that many of the chain saw manufacturers offer educational tutorials on YouTube, but he cautions viewers to critically evaluate the source of the materials. He also adds this reminder: “Having a good saw and all the right gear doesn’t guarantee your safety. In fact, nothing can. Always be aware of your surroundings and recognize your limitations.”  The expert cautions that safety should be paramount. “If you are not certain you can do the job safely, then don’t do the job.  Wait for safer conditions or seek qualified help,” he said.

Prather offers these additional wisdoms for those who have to clear their properties after disasters:

*Treat every downed power line as if it is ‘live.’ Stay away and let the power company crews remove limbs and trees from power lines. Never touch a power line with anything, nor touch anything that may be in contact with the power line. Remember, the lines are uninsulated and may be over 14,000 volts and capable of currents in hundreds of amps. Electricity can arc a considerable distance and travel through trees to electrocute you. Moving a power line with a wooden pole is very dangerous, because the pole will conduct electricity. Linemen use specially designed tools and safety gear, and have been properly trained to safely handle power lines.

*Broken limbs hanging in trees are nicknamed widowmakers. Don’t work underneath them. They can fall without warning. Even small limbs can cause very serious or fatal injuries.

*Downed or damaged trees and limbs can be under very high stresses from being bent. Use extreme caution and relieve the stress with a series of shallow cuts to the outside of the bend before attempting a cut all the way through. Failure to do this can cause the limb or trunk to snap violently.

*Never attempt to remove a lodged tree by cutting the tree it is leaning against! The results are often fatal. Lodged trees are best removed by professionals using a tractor or winch to pull it down in relative safety.

*Never turn your back on a falling tree! Have at least two clear routes at angles opposite the direction the tree is supposed to fall. Keep your eyes on the tree so you can alter your course should something unexpected happen.

With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.


The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.



Tim Prather, Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, 865-974-7266,