The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has voted to take the first steps toward eventual regulation of chain saws to reduce the hazard of "kickback," the largest single cause of injuries from chain saws every year.
By a unanimous vote this week, the Commission instructed its staff to prepare a public notice stating that work has begun on preparation of a mandatory safety standard for chain saws. The Commission also directed the staff to explore options for ensuring that safer chains are available in the marketplace as soon as possible both for new saws and when consumers purchase replacements chains for their saws. Consumers who regularly use their saws may need to replace the chain as often as twice a year.
In the absence of a CPSC safety standard, chain saw injuries which were serious enough to require hospital emergency room care have increased from 29,000 injuries in 1976 to 53,000 injuries in 1979. There were, however, an estimated total of 105,000 chain saw injuries that required medical attention in a hospital or elsewhere in 1979.
Nearly one-fourth of all chain saw injuries involved were caused by kickback, accounting for approximately 24,000 kickback injuries in 1979 which required medical aid.
Chain saw kickback is the sudden swift movement of the saw blade up and back toward the user. Kickbacks can be sudden and forceful enough to cause the user to lose control of the saw; it is a serious hazard which has made victims of experienced users as well as occasional users of chain saws.
Approximately 3 million chain saws are sold in the U.S. every year at retail prices ranging from $35 to $150. As consumers concerned with inflation and energy-conservation continue to purchase chain saws to cut their own firewood, injuries are expected to increase along with chain saw sales.
The Commission has been impressed with the safety advantages potentially offered by a newly developed "low-kick" chain which has not yet been made widely available for sale to consumers. So far, one company has developed the technology necessary to market this new chain, and another firm reportedly may be on the verge of marketing a similar chain.
In recent limited testing of a prototype "new generation" low-kick chain on five saws, CPSC staff noted that the newly designed chain reduced the total energy generated during kickback by as much as 74 per cent, thus presumably reducing the potential threat of kickback injury to users.
The Commission intends to stimulate industry to quickly develop and market these new generation low-kick chain so that all new chain saws will incorporate them and that low-kick chains will dominate the market for replacement chains by the end of this year; approximately 3.5 million replacement chains are sold annually to consumers.
Voluntary Approaches May Be Resumed
As CPSC staff begins its work, it simultaneously will renew negotiations with the chain saw industry to determine whether a basis exists to resume work on voluntary approaches to reduce injuries. Specifically, CPSC staff will seek voluntary agreements from industry to use the new low-kick chains on saws sold to consumers this fall.
CPSC staff will negotiate with the Chain Saw Manufacturers Association on such agreements until July 15, at which time CPSC staff will report the nature of any progress. Earlier this week, the Chain Saw Manufacturers Association (CSMA) expressed its desire to continue efforts to develop a voluntary performance standard to address the kickback hazard. CSMA suggested that they would complete work on a voluntary standard within 15 months.
An earlier joint effort to develop a voluntary standard for chain saws ended early this year when the Commission concluded that the process had not been successful. In a novel joint effort, CPSC and CSMA had agreed to work together for 18 months in order to prepare a voluntary standard by December 31, 1980.
However, on December 11, 1979, a majority of the members of a panel reviewing progress on the voluntary standard development found CSMA's proposed standard to require further testing and refused to support it. This "Standards Review Board" had been established under the agreement to oversee the standard development process, and ultimately to formulate the final standard.
Commission to Collect Additional Data on Chainsaw Safety Technology
Safety devices which have been developed to reduce kickback in chain saws include nose tip-guards, low-kick guide bars, chain brakes, hand guards and so-called "old technology" low-kick chains.
Some chain saws sold domestically feature one or more of these safety devices to protect consumers from kickback. However, such safety devices as chain brakes generally are not standard equipment in the U.S. market and are offered to consumers only as options at extra cost.
CPSC staff has learned that nearly all the chain saw standards in foreign nations require that the saws be equipped with chain brakes and other safety devices, and that most U.S. manufacturers do offer these devices as standard equipment on chain saws sold in Canada, Western Europe and other foreign markets.
In recent weeks CSMA has indicated a willingness to share engineering and marketing information with CPSC staff. In the event that the information is not promptly forthcoming, the Commission intends to require the industry to submit the appropriate data.
In addition, the Commission also instructed the staff to expand its injury data base so that brand names of chain saws associated with kickback injuries are identified, as well as the type of safety device (if any) with which the chain saw was equipped. This information is to be gathered with the cooperation of state and local agencies and through CPSC's standard investigations of chain saw accidents.
The staff also will explore the use of informational materials to be disseminated to consumers by the Commission providing comparative safety information on chain saws. Specifically, the Commission may tell consumers which safety features to look for in purchasing chain saws. The Commission will consider various methods of disseminating such information at its mid-July meeting on chain saws.