Chainsaw work is integral to the arboricultural trade but it does present an enormous risk to health and safety if not carried out appropriately. Chainsaws are essential for tasks such as corrective pruning, maintenance and removing branches.

With careful compliance with health and safety rules regarding chainsaw use and maintenance, it is possible to drastically reduce the risks. Here is a guide to chainsaw safety and maintenance to get you started.

Assessing the risks associated with chainsaw work

You are legally required to take steps to protect your own safety and that of anyone else who could be affected by the chainsaw work. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is a long-standing piece of legislation that applies to all workplaces. It imposes a general duty of care including:

“the provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health”

There are many specific regulations made under the act and one that is pertinent to chainsaw work is the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which requires employers to:

“assess the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking”

There is detailed guidance available from Health and Safety Executive, specifically aimed at those working with chainsaws.

A risk assessment generally includes the following:

  • Hazard identification: This involves a careful consideration of the work process and a realistic assessment of what could go wrong. When working with chainsaws, this could be anything from the chainsaw kicking back to a branch falling.


  • Listing everyone at risk: The duty of care does not stop at employees; you also have a responsibility to take steps to protect agency staff, subcontractors and passers-by.


  • Assess the risk of the hazard occurring: The risk is defined as how likely the hazard is to take place and cause harm.


  • Put measures in place to control the risk: You may be able to eliminate some hazards altogether but for others, you will need to reduce the risk of them happening as far as is practicable. This will be via a range of measures including training and supervision and personal protective equipment.


  • Record the assessment: If you have more than five employees, it is a legal requirement to record the assessment in writing but this is best practice for everyone. It acts as evidence that you have fulfilled your duties.


  • Review and update: Risk assessments are procedures that need to be continually updated because they soon become out of date. All employees should be able to view and contribute to the assessment.

Suitability for Chainsaw Work

Employees who work with chainsaws must be suitably fit to carry out the work. There are medical conditions that would make an employee unsuitable for chainsaw work. Others can work with chainsaws but only with constant monitoring.

If an employee suffers from a medical condition that could affect their ability to work safely, they may not be suitable for this type of work. A system of employee screening and monitoring is needed.

All employees who are required to use chainsaws must receive appropriate training and must have sufficient experience. This is required by The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

In addition, employees must be assessed under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER 98) and have a ‘relevant certificate of competence or national competence award, unless they are undergoing such training and are adequately supervised.’

Chainsaw Personal Protective Equipment

Although it is the last line of defence, personal protective equipment is vital for chainsaw work. Simply providing the equipment is not enough. It must fit properly, be maintained correctly and employees must know how to use it.


There is specific PPE designed for chainsaw work and this includes:

  • Foot and ankle protection: Boots for use with chainsaw work must comply with BS EN ISO 20345:2004 and EN 381-3.


  • Head protection: If the chainsaw is being used in a tree then a helmet with a 4 point chinstrap compliant with EN12492 should be used. If the saw is being used on the ground only, then the helmet should meet EN397.


  • Hearing Protection: This is provided by ear defenders complying with EN 352-1.


  • Eye protection: The eyes must be protected with a mesh visor or with safety glasses that comply with EN 166


  • Body protection: The legs should be protected with chainsaw trousers that comply with EN 381-5. Trained operators working on the ground only would usually use type A (front protection trousers); trainees, or aerial workers, would usually use type C (front and back protection).


  • Hand protection: Gloves for chainsaw use must comply with EN 381-7.


Chainsaw Maintenance

Chainsaws have to be maintained correctly. Maintenance includes making sure that all the mechanical parts of the motor are working as they should, and includes sharpening the chain. Blunt chains are more likely to cause injuries because they’re more likely to kick back, they are more inclined to catch in the wood which will propel the bar upwards. The operator is also forced to apply more pressure so there is an increased risk of slipping.

Sharpening a chainsaw is a three stage process:

  • Clamping the chainsaw

This is done using an appropriate clamp to hold the bar still.

  • Filing using an appropriate file

This is done by positioning the file in the tooth and carried out with a file guide. Use the same number of strokes for each cutter.

  • Checking with a depth gauge

A depth gauge tool will check the depth of the rakers which are the hook-shaped links that are found between cutters.

With careful risk assessment, safe systems of work, training and maintenance, the risks associated with chainsaw work can be significantly reduced.


Paul George is the managing director of Landmark Trading, and has worked in the arboricultural industry for 14 years. Landmark Trading are one the the UK’s leading suppliers of arborist equipment. You can connect with Paul on Twitter, Facebook or call Landmark Trading on 01780 482 231.