How to minimise chainsaw risks

Over 120 people sustain serious injuries every year when using chainsaws, so basic training and safety checks are vital when handling these powerful tools

Members of the Sligo/ Leitrim Forest Owners Group participating in chainsaw training. The course tutor was Seamus Whelan from Teagasc.
Members of the Sligo/ Leitrim Forest Owners Group participating in chainsaw training. The course tutor was Seamus Whelan from Teagasc.
Steven Meyen

Steven Meyen

I was a bit taken aback recently when I saw that the British hill walking magazine Trail had republished a very controversial picture of Everest summiteer Bronco Lane's amputated frost-bitten toes floating in formaldehyde.

That reminded me of the chilling scene I saw when I drove into a farmer's yard some years ago.

The farmer was cutting up a tree log on a concrete yard surface. Wearing an overall and rubber wellingtons, he had one foot on the tree log and was using the tip of the chainsaw to split the log lengthwise towards his foot. That scene gave me the heebie-jeebies: so many things could easily have gone wrong.

Chainsaws are undoubtedly an excellent and indispensable tool on the farm but they are also dangerous and accidents do happen.

Contrary to what most people believe, the major cause of timber-related accidents is being struck by falling trees or branches while felling trees. Appropriate training in chainsaw use and the wearing of suitable protective clothing to protect against these injuries is essential.

The Health and Safety Authority is very clear: "If you find you cannot meet the competency/training requirements or don't have all the personal protective equipment for chainsaw work activities, then you must engage the services of a competent chainsaw provider."

So, what does this entail?

First of all, complete a written risk assessment prior to starting work.

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This is not as silly as it sounds as it makes you think about the issues and risks involved and how to stay safe.

It is a great idea to do an accredited chainsaw training course and successfully complete the assessment suitable for the chainsaw work to be done.

Chainsaw courses with various levels of training are available.

Protective clothing

Discuss your particular training requirements with the chainsaw training provider before undertaking the training. Most basic training will require about five days including assessment. Yes, it is costly but it is money well spent.

It is also very important that suitable protective clothing and equipment is worn when using a chainsaw - no matter how small the job. Modern personal protective equipment (PPE) is durable and could prevent death or serious long term injury.

However, PPE cannot provide complete protection against cuts from chainsaws nor can it protect you from falling trees.

The following safety equipment should be used: - safety helmet with visor and ear muffs

- chainsaw gloves

- safety boots with steel toecaps and a good grip

- non-snag close-fitting outer clothing

-chainsaw trousers.

Make sure to have a first aid kit to hand and never work alone. Check your farm insurance cover to ensure that chainsaw work is covered. Your insurance company may well insist that you complete a chainsaw course, wear the correct safety gear and that a second person is present at all times.

Is the above over the top? I don't think so. Don't compromise on these essential safety requirements. Otherwise you may be at risk of a serious accident to yourself or others.

Further detailed information on chainsaw safety including contact details of chainsaw training providers can be found on

Stephen Meyen is a Teagasc forestry advisor


Chainsaw safety checks

Before using a chainsaw, check that all the following  are in place and visible:

• A clearly marked on/off switch

• Chain brake including a front hand guard

• Safety dead handle throttle

• Chain catcher

• Rear hand guard

• Anti vibration mounts

• Exhaust system to direct fumes away from the operator

• Chain cover for transportation

• An adequate tool kit for preventative and corrective maintenance

Indo Farming