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Chainsaw safety

Updated: Feb 16

Chainsaws are by their very design a potential danger to both their operators and anyone else in the vicinity when they are being used. Because of their power and the job that they are designed to do, the injuries that they inflict can be catastrophic in their severity. Ignoring the safety measures can lead to very serious consequences as these case studies show:

1. A company was fined after an employee was seriously injured by a chainsaw while felling trees. The employee suffered deep cuts to his arm while working with another colleague. The two employees were working together with one person holding and supporting the branches and the other cutting through them using the chainsaw. During this operation, one man’s arm landed on top of the moving chainsaw, causing deep lacerations and nerve damage to the arm.

The HSE investigation found that neither man had been trained to operate the chainsaw, nor were they wearing any personal protective equipment (i.e. chainsaw trousers and jacket, chainsaw gloves, safety helmet, safety boots and eye protection). There was no supervision and no proper planning had been put in place.

The employer pleaded guilty to a single breach under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £120,000, including a £170 victim surcharge. They were also ordered to pay costs of nearly £2,000.

2. A man was building a fence for a friend at a smallholding when he was found dead in a field near his home in Wales. He was lying alongside his running tractor, with the chainsaw nearby. The jury returned a conclusion of accidental death and the HSE said it was still considering taking action. The pathologist said that the cause of death was a chainsaw injury to the neck, where major arteries had been cut. Since the man had been working alone, the HSE investigation could only speculate about what had happened – the man might have slipped while standing on a small platform on the front of the tractor where rolls of wire fencing were carried or a branch may have knocked him off.


A tree surgeon was killed in an accident while trimming a tree in a back garden after the chainsaw ‘kicked back’ into his neck and left him dangling from his rope 20ft in the air.


A tree surgeon sliced his neck open with a chainsaw while cutting branches. His chainsaw kicked back and hit him in the neck. One of his colleagues tried to stop the bleeding and an ambulance was called but the man later died in hospital. The coroner said that he would write to arboreal regulatory bodies to investigate how to make chainsaws safer and whether more safety clothing, like neck guards, could be employed in the future.

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There are no short cuts where chainsaws are involved!

How could this be avoided?

If a suitable risk assessment had been carried out in the first place for the task, then appropriate control measures could have been implemented.

Looking at this more closely, the following questions need to be asked:

  • What is the task – a tree or wood needs to be cut using a chainsaw

  • How often does this task need to be carried out – regularly or a one off?

  • Do you have the resources to do this work – equipment, trained competent staff?

  • Will your insurer provide cover for this activity?

  • Does this involve working at height?

  • Are there any environmental issues?

  • Could this task affect anyone else – employees, visitors, public?

Once you have these answers, you can move on to assessing your options:

  • Must it be cut?

  • Are there any alternatives?

  • If so, what are the options?

If there are alternatives then it’s the end of the issue. However, if not, read on:

Balance the cost of training your staff to use the chainsaw, or get a quote for a competent contractor to come and do the work.

If you engage a competent contractor, they will have all the control measures in place and will cut the tree/wood for you at low risk.

If you decide to go ahead in-house, you must ensure you follow all the required steps:

  • Complete a suitable risk assessment – don’t forget to include fuel hazard (electricity or petrol) and emergency arrangements.

  • Train your staff and ensure they are competent for the task.

  • Provide suitable maintained equipment that complies with all the relevant standards.

  • Plan the work carefully and remember to isolate the area from unauthorised persons.

  • Ensure the correct PPE is provided and worn.

Kickback is a danger specific to the use of chainsaws and a contributory factor in at least two of the case studies cited above. It occurs when the saw chain at the nose of the guide bar hits an object. The chainsaw is then flung back at the operator with considerable force.

A high proportion of kickback injuries are to the face and parts of the upper body where it is difficult to provide protection, although as mentioned in Case Study 4, neck guards can afford some protection against this situation. A properly maintained chain brake and use of low-kickback chains (safety chains) reduces the effect, but cannot entirely prevent it.

Operators need to be aware of how to use the saw in a fashion that will reduce or eliminate the occurrence of kickback:

  • Don’t allow the nose of the guide bar to come into contact with any obstruction, e.g. branches, logs, stumps;

  • Don’t over-reach;

  • Keep the saw below chest height;

  • Keeping the thumb of the left hand around the back of the front handle;

  • Use the appropriate chain speed for the material being cut.

For further information on using chain saws safely, the HSE has published guidance which can be obtained via this link:

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