Chainsaws can be dangerous when they aren’t operated correctly or when the appropriate measures have not been put in place with regards to safety. Protect your chainsaw operators and closely working workers before they’re placed in danger.

Here’s how managers can conduct a chainsaw risk assessment in 6 steps.

1. Write down details pertaining to the company and use of equipment

At the top of your risk assessment document, you want to identify the date of the assessment - so you have a benchmark for any subsequent risk assessments - the person conducting the assessment, the equipment item (chainsaw - electric, for example), the make and model number, the serial number, the company details, and the location of the work. If the assessment fails and needs an update, the update date should also be noted.

2. Identify if the chainsaw is fuel or electric

This step is simple. When completing the risk assessment, conditions may be different depending on if the chainsaw is fuel or electric since fuel chainsaws require refueling, which comes with its own risks. Simply state which type of chainsaw you have - for each chainsaw your team works with. Make sure each sawyer is trained on each type of chainsaw so that they can be used effectively and safely.  

3. Describe the uses of the chainsaw

Each risk assessment should identify in which conditions the chainsaw will be used. For example, if the chainsaw is used in a heavily wooded area, there’d be an increased risk of the sawyer being crushed by potentially felled trees. If the chainsaw is being used in an open area, then the risks may be less. The uses and locations for each chainsaw matters in taking the appropriate steps for sawyer safety.

4. Identify and document key risks

Make sure that all sawyers are properly trained, and that no lone working is undertaken. On your risk assessment document, make a separate row or column for each risk. When identifying risks, consider the work environment and the risks that can affect workers from head to toe. For example, arm and hand injuries are most prevalent amongst sawyers with leg injuries a close second, so it’s important to focus on reducing risks in those areas.

5. Summarise key risks and measures to control risks

Be sure to summarise and document all key risks; then, make sure the measures that are put in place to reduce those risks are followed. Make sure that all PPE and chainsaws are maintained, stored correctly, and in good working order and that all sawyers wear the appropriate PPE every single time they work.

All sawyers have to be First Aid and CPR certified. They should undergo classroom and field test training before operating a saw. Sawyers should only cut within their certification. Certifications should be up to date and maintained.

All new operators need to have constant, direct supervision until proficiency is demonstrated. In the event of mental stress and fatigue, sawyers should cease operations until obstacles are overcome. Start the day with safety briefings, and end the day with a summary of events.

Here are some common hazards:

These hazards aren’t comprehensive, but they are a start in deciding how chainsaws can affect your sawyers.

Saw Strike to hands and feet

  • Risk: High
  • Effects: Loss of limb, serious injury, death
  • Prevention: Train sawyers on operation; all sawyers should be NPTC certified, and registered with FISA; all operators should wear approved PPE - full ballistic trousers, boots, gloves, and a helmet with a visor; sawyers should carry a first aid belt pack.

Sawdust/wood chippings

  • Risk: Medium
  • Effects: Damage to eyes, blindness, respiratory problems
  • Prevention: Sawyers should wear eye protection and a helmet with a mesh visor; there should be good ventilation and sawyers should take regular breaks.


  • Risk: Medium
  • Effects: Hand-arm vibration syndrome
  • Prevention: Sawyers should not operate chainsaws longer than the max daily operation time; maintain the equipment; keep hands warm; take regular breaks; rotate jobs.


  • Risk: Low to high
  • Effects: Slips, trips, falls, cuts, bruises, head injury, serious injury, death
  • Prevention: PPE and training; make sure sawyers do not wear loose clothing.

Saw strike to third party

  • Risk: High
  • Effects: Serious injury, loss of limbs, death
  • Prevention: When volunteers are on site, make sure visitors know how to approach sawyers - from safety briefing. All visitors should keep five metre distance from sawyers (two tree lengths). Sawyers should check the surrounding areas before felling a tree to make sure that no volunteers or members of the public are in the vicinity. Place safety signs to warn the public when forestry operations are in place.


  • Risk: Medium
  • Effects: Hearing damage, deafness, long-term damage from prolonged use
  • Prevention: All sawyers must wear full ear protection to prevent hearing damage or loss

Falling trees, branches and debris and Hang up of felled tree

  • Risk: High
  • Effects: Crushing impact, head or body injury, death
  • Prevention: Volunteers should maintain safe distances when feeling operations in place. Sawyers should check the area before dropping a tree. Assess all work areas for safety before beginning a task.


  • Risk: Medium
  • Effects: Injury to back, muscle strain, muscle pulls
  • Prevention: Train sawyers on safe lifting practices, lift with a partner for big logs, and log tongs should always be used for items that are too large for two sawyers to lift it.

Inclement weather, high wind, and rain

  • Risk: High
  • Effects: Loss of control when felling; slips, trips, and falls
  • Prevention: Make the area safe, cease work if it’s unsafe, warn other members of the team.

Transportation of saws, equipment, and fuel

  • Risk: Medium
  • Effects: Injury to drivers, passengers, or spill dangers
  • Prevention: Secure equipment properly when in transit.


  • Risk: Medium
  • Effects: Spills that can lead to fire, explosion, or pollution
  • Prevention: Don’t refuel with a running engine. All fuel cans should be labeled correctly with the contents. Container should be kept two tree lengths from the fueling area and any sources of ignition, even sunlight. Fuel cans must have an automatic fuel shut-off valve to prevent spillage when filling. Mop any spilled fuel including any clothing spills. Bio-chain oil must be used.

Storage of saws and fuel/oil at operational base.

  • Risk: High
  • Effects: Spills causing physical contact, fume inhalation, fire, or explosion
  • Prevention: Store saws in safe and locked storage area. All fuel and oil must be stored in a fume cabinet. Do not store large amounts of fuel at once.

6. Put appropriate measures in place for safety

Safety measures must be put in place to reduce and minimise risks. Make sure all sawyers adhere to all safety measures at all times.

Make sure saws have the required components that are undamaged: chain catcher, throttle or throttle interlock, muffler, hand guard, and a chain brake.

Chainsaw Protective Clothing

Sawyers must always wear head protection with a visor, eye protection, ear protection, and chainsaw protective fabric, especially on the legs. Leg protection should consist of cut-resistant material, extending from the upper thigh to the boot top. A pair of chainsaw resistant trousers or a bib & brace overall designed for chainsaw protection are a necessity.

Hands and arms are especially vulnerable to the damage a chainsaw in motion can create, so a high quality chainsaw proof jacket and protective gloves designed to protect against the chainsaw blade are absolutely essential.

There are also specially designed chainsaw boots in the form of heavy-duty steel toe boots with waterproofing. Boots should provide ankle support and should be slip-resistant when possible. Cut-resistance is also vital.  

Once you’ve completed your risk assessment, trained your sawyers, and put safety measures in place, operations can commence.