Think safety when you are working chainsaws

Kickback: A common cause of injuries when working chainsaws is kickback when the chain strikes a hard object
Kickback: A common cause of injuries when working chainsaws is kickback when the chain strikes a hard object

William Merivale

It's official, farming is the most dangerous industry in the country. According to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), 176 people died on farms during the last 10 years, more than in any other sector. Many more were injured, some seriously. The real tragedy is that the great majority of these accidents are avoidable.

About half of all farm accidents are machinery-related and the chainsaw looms large in the list of culprits. The Teagasc National Farm Survey indicates that about one in 15 of all injuries sustained on the farm involve chainsaws and lead to about 120 serious injuries every year. If used incorrectly the chainsaw is one of the most dangerous tools on the farm and the HSA points out that because many farmers and self-employed contractors do not use them on a regular basis they may lack the experience or knowledge required for certain tasks.

All farmers intending to use a chainsaw should at a minimum undergo basic training and there are a number of approved courses available. For most farmers the City and Guilds NPTC chainsaw training courses CS30, CS31 and CS32 will be sufficient. The first two cover maintenance, cross-cutting and small tree felling, while CS32 goes a stage further to cover the felling of medium and large trees. CS34 and CS35 are for windblown trees and on no account should anyone attempt to work in a windblown area without this training as dealing with windblown trees can be extremely hazardous.

Routine maintenance is a must and will prolong the life of the chainsaw as well as help to prevent accidents happening. As with all cutting tools, a blunt chainsaw will cause as much damage to human tissue as a sharp one, but a blunt one is more likely to come into contact with that tissue in the first place. Chainsaws should be sharpened regularly with the right size of file, and to lessen the risk of it breaking, the chain must always kept at the correct tension. The chain brake should be checked regularly and cleaned to ensure it is working properly.

An alarming number of farmers and other non-professionals can still be seen operating chainsaws without wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). At a minimum this should include a safety helmet with eye protection and ear defenders; chainsaw gloves with a protective pad on the back of the left hand; safety boots; non-snag close fitting clothing, and chainsaw trousers. Chainsaws emit noise in excess of 100 decibels and just a few minutes close exposure without ear defenders will lead to permanent hearing damage.


A risk assessment should be undertaken before commencing working with the chainsaw. Hazards including uneven ground, hidden obstacles, dead or part-broken overhead branches, and overhead power cables should be identified and either avoided or dealt with accordingly. Particular care should be taken to exclude children from the danger area.

Kickback is responsible for a large number of chainsaw accidents. Kickback can occur when the upper tip of the guide bar comes into contact with any solid object such as a log or a branch and results in the guide bar moving suddenly and violently upwards. This can cause severe lacerations to the head, neck and upper body. To avoid kickback never cut above shoulder height, never begin cutting with the upper half of the nose of the blade, hold the saw firmly and only cut on full power. Also keep the left arm straight as this will help to divert the saw over the head in the event of kickback occurring.

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Preferably do not work alone, and if you have no option but to do so ensure there is a means of raising the alarm should it prove necessary - at the very least make sure your mobile phone is readily to hand.

Taking just a few precautions can save your or a bystander's life so it should become automatic.

Indo Farming

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