Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training CoordinatorJune 2013


Chainsaw PPE has come a long way in the last 20 years. We’ve also seen an increase in utilization of chainsaw PPE in that time-frame as well. I believe, this is largely due to several factors impacting the overall perception of PPE. First of all, training has increased exposure to what’s required, as well as what’s available. Other reasons leading to greater acceptance of PPE is comfort / fit, function, mobility, durability and style.

Believe it or not, style has a huge impact on how well PPE is accepted on the jobsite. Take safety glasses, for instance. Several years ago, safety glasses were heavy, uncomfortable and so goofy looking, you would think that they would come with a matching pocket protector. Today, there are numerous styles of safety glasses that protect better, are more comfortable, and look so doggone cool I see many people wearing safety glasses on a casual basis as sunglasses.

Despite the advancements we’ve seen in PPE quality, availability and use, there is still a slight gap that needs to be closed in when it comes to every operator wearing PPE every time the saw is in their hands. It probably took 10-15 years before any PPE, whether hardhats or chaps, to be generally accepted on an individual basis for regular use in the field. A great deal of this lag time is due to a macho image we tend to uphold in ANY industry (hence a need to consider the element of COOL, haha). It’s unfortunate our culture has such a hard time blending macho and professional in the same image.

According to OSHA, a chainsaw operator should wear foot protection, leg protection, hand protection, eye, ear, and head protection. That description leaves a lot to the discretion of the operator. Simply put, cheap steel toe boots, the least expensive apron-style chaps, gloves of any type, a hard hat paired with ear plugs and safety glasses will allow a saw operator to meet the minimum required standards for less than $150. If this is your idea of proper PPE, congratulations, you’re comfortably standing on the lowest rung of the ladder. If we were to step our protection and professionalism up a few notches, we could be looking at spending as much as $900 to be outfitted from head to toe. Of course, with that price tag comes increased durability, comfort, mobility, and most definitely an image of professionalism.

Many of us have heard the saying; “The speed of the leader is the speed of the game”. This is especially true for our crews. If the supervisor has a genuinely positive, safety conscious attitude toward PPE use, or anything for that matter, the crew will follow suit. Again, I say this attitude has to be genuine. Otherwise, it’s fake, cheesy; anything but professional.

Once the initial investment in quality, comfortable PPE is made, I’ve never seen anyone take a step backwards. At that point, the standard has been set. Even casual chainsaw operators making the investment in wrap around chaps or cutting pants go back to wearing simple apron style chaps. The same goes for a hardhat-earplug-safety glasses combo vs. a full out sawyers hardhat system, (or any single PPE item for that matter).

To wrap things up for this month, I’d like to recap a conversation I had with a fellow attending a chainsaw safety class. During our discussion of PPE, he boldly said, “Chicks dig scars”. While this may have some truth to it, let us not neglect the fine line that exists here. My response to him was, “Chicks may dig scars, but they don’t dig dead guys…and if we survive the injury, I recall even Frankenstein had one heck of a time finding a date!”

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University.  Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments.  He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA.  For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or