Chuck Oslund’s The Chainsaw Safety System is more than just a safety handbook. It’s a philosophical treatise on the importance of safety and the realization that there are three elements involved in cutting down a tree-you, the chainsaw, and the tree. You must show respect to both the tree and the chainsaw. As Oslund states early on, this book and the methods it illustrates are “not just an understanding of how the saw works; it’s about how it works when combined with the unique tree you are cutting, and the individual state of your attitude. This is the reason for this book; the CSS [Chainsaw Safety System] is that ‘something more’ you need to be a safe, productive, and confident operator.” Not only will it keep you safe, but the CSS will ensure everyone else involved is safe, including your designated safety person, since there should always be a safety person involved whenever using a chainsaw.
You may already know how to use a chainsaw and be questioning whether you need this book. However, most people do not know how to use chainsaws properly or they may even be afraid of using them. Worse, many people attempt to use chainsaws when emergency situations arise even though they’ve never been trained to use them. As Oslund states, “Trees kill more people in catastrophic weather events than any other cause.” In fact, more people are usually hurt in the clean-up of trees after a storm than are hurt by the storm itself. Plus, the cost of chainsaw injuries is astronomical. Oslund states that the estimated cost per chainsaw injury in 2000 was over $12,000 (I suspect it’s more than double that today) and required an average of 110 stiches. In 2009, there were more than 26,000 emergency room treated chainsaw injuries, and by 2013, that number had risen to 36,000.
The increase in injuries largely comes from more people using chainsaws today without being trained in how to use them properly. When emergency situations arise, people try to be heroes even though they may not know what they are doing. Others are afraid to act because they fear the chainsaw. This book not only teaches proper use, but it teaches people not how to step outside their comfort zones but how to expand those zones.
One of the best ways to ensure safety that Oslund explores is learning how to identify the risks or dangers around you. He teaches brain-training observation techniques so we can look for unexpected risks. We can master these techniques simply by paying attention to our surroundings wherever we are rather than constantly being focused on our phones or other distractions.
Some people might dismiss Oslund’s teachings as just common sense, but he quickly points out why that is the wrong attitude. When a student told him, “I already have a safety system; it’s called ‘common sense,'” Oslund told him, “That comment is the exact reason why the safety system is needed, and why it helps only those who are willing to lay down their pride for the benefit of beginner saw operators; that line of thinking may be valid for an ordinary tool, but it is not for the most dangerous tool because it is also ‘common’ to be injured when operating one; two ‘commons’ mean that, statistically, you will eventually be injured if you don’t start using your head for something besides telling everyone around you how ‘good’ you are with this ‘manly’ tool.”
In fact, Oslund has many times taken it upon himself to speak to people he has seen practicing unsafe behavior. He’s even had people admit they engage in such behavior just to show off. He’s had people yell at him for sticking his nose in their business, only for them later to thank him for caring enough to teach them better. When using one of the deadliest devices on the planet, there is no place for bravado.
The second half of The Chainsaw Safety System focuses on the five rules of chainsaw safety. I won’t go into them here-better you read the book so you understand them in full-but the final rule is “Stumps don’t lie.” In other words, the stump left behind after you use your chainsaw will tell the story of just how skilled-and safe-you are with your saw. Oslund has often seen a stump in the woods that made him shake his head and say a prayer for the chainsaw operator that they haven’t hurt themselves or someone else with a chainsaw since they cut down that tree.
The Chainsaw Safety System also includes fifty-five images taken from slides Oslund has used in his presentations on chainsaw safety which he has given all over the state of Michigan, and which are paid for by the state. These images illustrate his points and serve as ready references for readers to go back and remember main points. Oslund also references several videos from YouTube that readers can view to find examples of what to do-and not do.
Finally, Oslund is entertaining. While this book is longer than one might expect, that is because Oslund truly wants his readers to be safe, and he uses his dry humor to make his points come across, as well as repetition, so that readers will remember what he says when their chainsaw meets a tree it might otherwise not like. As an example of humor, here is one of my favorite passages from the book:
“I will go around the room and ask each student to name a possible hazard while cutting down a tree. I’ll usually get through a few sitting near the front of the class with responses like widow makers, telephone wires, the outhouse, my stupid dog-things like that-before I stop and let them off the hook by stating, ‘You could say just about anything, and I could dream up a scenario where it could be a hazard while cutting with a chainsaw.’ Of course, after making such a bold statement, I get instant challenges like: ‘elephant, pancake, sea anemone,’ yelled out by some smartass. After having some fun with that by showing how they could be hazards-cutting down a tree at the zoo; I ate fifty of them for breakfast; I have a coral cutting saw with a long snorkel-I point out the reason for the exercise: Nobody can possibly predict the hazards that could be encountered in felling any tree until they are actually in the cutting area.”
A glossary concludes the book. Trust me, when you come away, you will know all the terms in this book very well. You will know how to determine where a tree will fall, how to communicate with your safety person, why it’s important to keep your saw maintained, and so much more. You will have become part of the CSS, and you will use what you learned in these pages to ensure your safety and that of others in areas of your life that don’t even require a chainsaw. If you ever plan to pick up a chainsaw, The Chainsaw Safety System is the book you need to make sure you live to cut another day.