While chainsaws are efficient and productive power tools, they can also be dangerous if not used correctly and with care by trained and experienced operators.
Over 30,000 people are injured every year from incidents that occurred when they were using chainsaws. Wearing sufficient personal protective equipment and following safe operating procedures can greatly reduce the risk for injury when using chainsaws. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe operation and maintenance.
OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.266(e)(1)(i) The employer shall assure that each hand and portable powered tool, including any tool provided by an employee, is maintained in serviceable condition.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.300(a) All hand and power tools and similar equipment, whether furnished by the employer or the employee, shall be maintained in a safe condition.
Chainsaw operators put themselves at greater risk when they perform tasks that are beyond their capabilities or training level. Higher risk chainsaw operations include cutting on trees that are on unstable ground, on steep slopes, with a heavy lean, with root rot or are known to split. Operating a chainsaw above shoulder height or while working from a ladder also carry a greater risk. It’s important to always operate a chainsaw within your skill level for maximum safety.
Only trained and experienced workers should be operating chainsaws. If possible, it is highly advised that chainsaw operators not work alone.
Before operating any chainsaw, take the time to plan ahead to ensure the work area is secure and the chainsaw is in good operating condition.
Ensure there are no other people in the immediate area. Clear obstacles that may interfere with your ability to keep a stable footing or that may block your retreat path. Identify electrical lines in and near the work area.
Check that controls, switches and safety devices are working properly. Never operate a chainsaw that is damaged or has disengaged safety devices! Check all bolts, handles, and the chain for damage and proper tension. Make sure that the chain is sharp and the lubrication reservoir is full. Fuel the saw at least 10 feet away from ignition sources.
Clear away dirt, debris, small tree limbs, and rocks from the chainsaw’s path. Start the saw on the ground or another firm support, at least 10 feet from the fueling area, with the chain’s brake engaged. Drop starting is never allowed. Look for nails, spikes or other metal objects before you begin cutting.
Chainsaw operators must wear personal protective equipment while working. Protective gear can mean the difference between a minor abrasion and a major injury. Ensure that PPE is in good condition prior to starting work.
OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.266(d)(1)(v) The employer shall assure that each employee who operates a chain saw wears foot protection that is constructed with cut-resistant material which will protect the employee against contact with a running chain saw.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.300(c) Employees using hand and power tools and exposed to the hazard of falling, flying, abrasive, and splashing objects, or exposed to harmful dusts, fumes, mists, vapors, or gases shall be provided with the particular personal protective equipment necessary to protect them from the hazard.
Because of the dangers associated with operating a chainsaw, protective equipment must protect your head, eyes, face, hearing, hands, legs and feet. PPE recommendations include:
- Head protection, such as a hard hat or logging helmet
- Hearing protection, like ear plugs or ear muffs, sufficient to reduce noise exposure to 90 decibels or less
- Safety glasses with side shields or safety goggles
- Face shield
- Work gloves, with enhanced gripping surface and cut resistance
- Leg protection, such as chaps or cut-resistant pants
- Protective footwear, like boots with non-skid soles and steel toes, made with cut-resistant material
- High-visibility safety apparel, like a safety vest
Kickback, a common hazard when using a chainsaw, occurs when the teeth on the chain catch on a solid object as they rotate around the tip of the blade, which forces the blade back towards the operator unexpectedly. Know where the bar tip is at all times. Do not let it touch logs, branches or the ground when the saw is running. Keep both hands on the handles and maintain secure footing. A secure grip and stability provides more control in the event of a kickback. Stand to the side of the cutting path of the chainsaw and position yourself so that you are not near the bar and chain when the saw is running.
Pinching occurs when the chainsaw becomes stuck and stalls while you are cutting. There are cutting techniques and tools, like wedges, that can be used to help prevent pinching. If the chainsaw bar does get pinched, turn off the engine first before assessing the situation to determine the best way to relieve pressure to dislodge the chainsaw.
Kickback can also happen when the bar is pinched, known as pinch kickback. If the bar is pinched on the top of the bar it will be pushed back into the operator. If it is pinched on the bottom of the bar it pulls the saw forward and the reaction can cause the operator to fall on the saw. Run the saw at full power when cutting to help prevent pinch kickback.
OSHA Standard General Industry 1910.243(a)(2)(i) All hand-held powered circular saws having a blade diameter greater than 2 inches, electric, hydraulic or pneumatic chain saws, and percussion tools without positive accessory holding means shall be equipped with a constant pressure switch or control that will shut off the power when the pressure is released. All hand-held gasoline powered chain saws shall be equipped with a constant pressure throttle control that will shut off the power to the saw chain when the pressure is released.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.300(d)(3) All other hand-held powered tools, such as circular saws, chain saws, and percussion tools without positive accessory holding means, shall be equipped with a constant pressure switch that will shut off the power when the pressure is released.
Other safety precautions to remember when operating a chainsaw:
- Never walk around with a chainsaw in the operating mode, always switch off the power source.
- Do not attempt to cut anything other than wood with a chainsaw.
- Cut only one piece of wood at a time, never two branches at once.
- Do not operate a chainsaw if you are fatigued because concentration and a secure grip won’t be optimal.
- Make sure the chain brake is functioning.
- Keep oil and fuels off the handles.
- Always turn the chainsaw off before setting it down.