Proper Chainsaw Safety and Operation

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are about 36,000 injuries caused by chainsaws every year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cites the left hand and lower left leg as the most common places for chainsaw injuries. Employers can reduce the risk of these injuries by training their employees on proper chainsaw safety and operation, and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Before You Start the Chainsaw

Proper chainsaw operation starts before even turning on the saw. Employees should inspect the area for anything that might put their safety at risk. Some examples include:

  • Anything above the work site that could dislodge into the work site
  • An escape route in case employees need to reach safety quickly
  • Debris (rocks, large branches, tree stumps, or nails)
  • Electric power lines

If employees notice electric power lines near the worksite, they must always remain at least ten feet away from the lines. If they cannot, the appropriate supervisor must contact the utility company to de-energize the lines. Only employees who have had additional electrical safety training can work within ten feet of an energized power line.

Illustration of a chainsaw with labeled parts

It is important to ensure that all chainsaw parts are in good working condition before attempting to power on the saw. OSHA requires that all chainsaws have the following parts:

  • Chain catcher
  • Anti-vibration handle system
  • Chain brake
  • Hand guard
  • Muffler
  • Fuel container
  • Throttle


If employees find a chainsaw is damaged or that any of the above parts are missing, they should report it to their supervisor, tag it with “Danger; do not use,” and remove it from service until it can be repaired. Employees should also check fuel and oil levels before starting a chainsaw. OSHA requires refueling to take place at least ten feet away from any open flame or other source of ignition.

Starting the Chainsaw

Proper chainsaw starting procedure

Never drop start a chainsaw by holding the starting cord with one hand and pushing the saw down with the other. Instead, employees should place the saw on the ground with the chain brake engaged and pull the start cord toward them. Employees must always start a chainsaw at least ten feet away from the fueling area and any flammable materials. 

Proper Chainsaw Personal Protection Equipment

Chainsaw operation PPE

The following PPE is required by OSHA during chainsaw operation:

  • Head protection
  • Eye and face protection
    • If an employee wears prescription lenses that are not safety rated, the eye protection must fit comfortably over the lenses without adjusting their position
  • Hearing protection
  • Hand protection
  • Leg protection
    • Leg protection must be made from ballistic nylon or a similar cut-resistant material, and must cover the leg from the top of the thigh to the top of the boot
  • Foot protection
    • Foot protection must support the ankle and be made from cut-resistant material. Heavy-duty logging boots are a good example of proper foot protection for chainsaw operation

Safety and Operation Techniques

Chainsaw Safety Techniques

In order to reduce the risk of injury to themselves or others, employees should always practice proper chainsaw safety and operation techniques. These include:

  • Making sure the fall area is free of debris or hazards
  • Avoiding cutting an object so that it falls into nearby objects
    • This can cause both objects to fall in unexpected and possibly dangerous ways
  • Keeping the tip guard in place
  • Gripping the handle with both hands
  • Avoiding, whenever possible, cutting an object under tension
  • Being aware of kick-back

Additionally, all other employees or bystanders should remain at least 150 feet from anyone cutting down a tree and at least 30 feet from anyone removing limbs from a tree.

To avoid losing balance while using a chainsaw or losing control of the saw, employees should never use a saw in a way that causes them to be off-center, such as reaching out too far or standing on an uneven surface. To maintain control of the chainsaw, all cuts should be below the waist and the chainsaw should never be raised above head level. If employees are carrying the chainsaw more than 50 feet or through difficult terrain such as slippery surfaces or thick underbrush, they must either engage the chain brake or shut off the chainsaw.

Chainsaw safety procedures

Even with proper training, operating a chainsaw is inherently dangerous. Employees should never attempt to do jobs beyond their abilities or training. High-risk chainsaw operations include:

  • Operating a chainsaw above ground level, such as in a tree or on a ladder
  • Working on a steep slope or uneven ground
  • Cutting trees known to split
  • Working in inclement weather, such as heavy rain or extreme cold
  • Working for long periods of time with no breaks


To keep everyone on the worksite safe, your employees need to be aware of the hazards of using a chainsaw and proper chainsaw safety and operation techniques.

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