Topics explained – Chainsaws

The chainsaw is an indispensable, labour-saving power tool used widely by farmers, viticulturists, orchardists and foresters. While it makes light work of felling and cutting up trees, a chainsaw has the potential to inflict very serious injuries or create hazardous situations.

Chainsaws should only be used by trained operators. Cross-cut and felling training should be undertaken by competent operators.

Chainsaw selection

Purchase chainsaws that are designed and manufactured for safe operation, and are properly guarded. All modern chainsaws have certain safety devices designed to help you safely use and keep control of the saw.

Select a task-appropriate chainsaw that is light and well-balanced, with a low noise rating, and equipped with:

  • a chain brake (preferably automatic) and low-kick chain (safety chain) to prevent injury in the event of kickback
  • a chain catcher and rear hand protector to protect the saw and the operator in the event of chain breakage
  • an interlock throttle system to prevent uncontrolled activation of the throttle
  • an anti-vibration system to reduce exposure to vibration
  • an on-off switch.

Checks and maintenance

Carry out pre-operational checks as outlined in the operator’s manual, in particular checking that the chain brake is working effectively.

Conduct regular chainsaw maintenance

  • sharpen and tension the chain
  • check the sprocket for wear
  • check the guide bar for burring and wearing.


Ensure operators are well trained, instructed and supervised – send workers to a chainsaw operator training course if necessary.

Provide chainsaw operators and anyone helping them with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), which must be worn at all times while a saw is being operated.

PPE should include:

  • eye and face protection (goggles, safety glasses, mesh and perspex face shields); the chain on the saw rotates at more than 40 km/h, so chips and material can be flung at an operator’s eyes at a very high speed
  • head protection (hard hat), to protect from falling material and kickback
  • hearing protection; chainsaws operate in the region of 100-110dB(A) at the operator’s ear, therefore careful consideration must be given to the attenuation of the ear protector for the operator and anyone else working in the vicinity
  • foot protection (e.g. safety boots with steel toe caps, non-slip/deep tread soles or metal sprigs/cleats)
  • leg protection (e.g. cut-resistant safety chaps)
  • hand protection (e.g. gloves or mittens to protect against cuts and abrasions when handling offcuts, keep hands warm and help prevent vibration induced problems).

Do not tackle jobs beyond your capabilities. Use professionals for felling trees that overhang powerlines or buildings, large shelterbelt trees, trees with a heavy lean or on steep slopes/unstable ground.

Never work alone. Chainsaws can expose workers to hazards that could result in a serious injury requiring first aid. Always have a trained first aider within calling distance.

Chainsaw use

Other than the obvious risk of contact with a moving chain, the single most dangerous aspect of the saw is kickback when the bar nose makes contact with an object, resulting in instantaneous kick reaction. Severe injuries and sometimes death can occur.

To prevent kickback:

  • avoid using the bar nose and be alert to anything coming into contact with it
  • ensure the safety chain is used, and that it is correctly sharpened and tensioned
  • always hold a running saw firmly with both hands on the handles, with the thumb of the left hand placed under the front handle
  • avoid using the saw above shoulder height
  • always keep the saw in front of the body.

Start the chainsaw on firm ground with the chain brake applied and the blades facing away from the operator.

Match the size of your saw and bar to the size of the material being cut. Don’t try to use a small saw and bar to fell a large tree.

Chainsaws are only designed for cutting wood. Never use them to cut any other material or use the saw guide bar for levering or digging.

Do not use chainsaws when working from a ladder. Chainsaws require both hands to be operated safely, and working from a ladder requires one hand to hold the ladder to maintain a steady position.

Ensure you have a firm and stable footing, especially when working on sloping terrain or in wet conditions.

When cross-cutting or pruning

  • Clear the area as much as possible to ensure you have a firm and stable footing.
  • Do not use the chainsaw above shoulder height or above ground level (e.g. in a tree or off a ladder).
  • Consider using a pole saw if working overhead.
  • Check for dead limbs that may fall and injure the operator.

When felling large trees

  • Assess the tree for the desired direction of fall.
  • Identify a planned clear path for escape.
  • Ensure you have a firm and stable footing.
  • Ensure no people or vehicles are in, or can enter, the danger zone (2.5 x tree length).
  • Check the tree for dead limbs.

Further information

Guideline to managing risks of tree trimming and removal work – Safe Work Australia

Tree felling

Managing noise