Chainsaws at work

11th October 2017

Chainsaws at work


This is guidance from HSE on using portable, hand-held, petrol-engine chainsaws at work. It is aimed at employers, the self-employed and those who control the use of work equipment and includes basic information on safe working practices which operators may find useful.

Controlling the risks
As part of managing the health and safety of your business, you must control the risks in your workplace. To do this you need to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether you are doing enough to prevent harm. This process is known as a risk assessment and it is something you are required by law to carry out.

A risk assessment is about identifying and taking sensible and proportionate measures to control the risks in your workplace, not about creating huge amounts of paperwork. You are probably already taking steps to protect your employees, but your risk assessment will help you decide whether you should be doing more.

Think about how accidents and ill health could happen and concentrate on real risks – those that are most likely and which will cause the most harm.

The following might help:
● Think about your workplace activities, processes and the substances used that could injure your employees or harm their health.
● Ask your employees what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you and may have some good ideas on how to control the risks.
● Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment, as they can be very helpful in spelling out the hazards.
● Some workers may have particular requirements, for example new and young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers, people with disabilities, temporary workers, contractors, homeworkers and lone workers may be at particular risk.

Having identified the hazards, you then have to decide how likely it is that harm will occur. Risk is a part of everyday life and you are not expected to eliminate all risks. What you must do is make sure you know about the main risks and the things you need to do to manage them responsibly. Generally, you need to do everything reasonably practicable to protect people from harm.

Make a record of your significant findings – the hazards, how people might be harmed by them and what you have in place to control the risks. Any record produced should be simple and focused on controls. If you have fewer than five employees you do not have to write anything down. But it is useful to do this so you can review it at a later date, for example if something changes. If you have five or more employees, you are required by law to write it down.

Few workplaces stay the same, so it makes sense to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis.

Consulting your employees
Workplaces where employees are involved in taking decisions about health and safety are safer and healthier. Collaboration with your employees helps you to manage health and safety in a practical way by:
● helping you spot workplace risks;
● making sure health and safety controls are practical;
● increasing the level of commitment to working in a safe and healthy way.

You must consult all your employees, in good time, on health and safety matters. In workplaces where a trade union is recognised, this will be through union health and safety representatives. In non-unionised workplaces, you can consult either directly or through other elected representatives.

Consultation involves employers not only giving information to employees but also listening to them and taking account of what they say before making health and safety decisions.

Issues you should consult employees on include:
● risks arising from their work;
● proposals to manage and/or control these risks;
● the best ways of providing information and training.

Fitness to operate a chainsaw
Operators need to be reasonably fit, both physically and mentally, if they are to use a chainsaw safely. People with disabilities do not need to be excluded from work with chainsaws, but medical advice may restrict the tasks they can do and require increased supervision.

Certain medical conditions may affect the ability of a person to operate a chainsaw safely. Seek further medical advice if prospective operators have any condition affecting, eg their:
● mobility (eg arthritis, stroke);
● alertness (eg diabetes or alcohol/drug dependency);
● physical strength (eg heart conditions);
● vision (which cannot be corrected by glasses or contact lenses);
● manual dexterity/grip strength (eg vibration white finger);
● balance (eg vertigo, giddiness or epilepsy).

Operators need to inform their employers when they are taking prescribed medication which may affect their ability to operate a chainsaw safely.

New workers
Workers are at particular risk of injury in the first six months of a job, when they are more likely to be unaware of risks. Follow these six steps to protect new workers:
● Assess the new starter’s capabilities.
● Plan and provide an induction.
● Make sure control measures to protect them against risks are up to date and being properly used and maintained.
● Provide relevant information, instruction and training.
● Provide effective supervision.
● Check workers have understood the information, instruction and training they need to work safely.

Kentra have been providing on-site training for over 20 years, and can provide practical instruction and testing for up to 4 candidates on our Chainsaw courses – click HERE for more course information.

Young workers
A young person is anyone under 18 and a child is anyone who has not yet reached the official minimum school leaving age which may be just before, on, or just after their 16th birthday.

Employers are responsible for ensuring a young person is not exposed to risk due to lack of experience, being unaware of existing or potential risks or a lack of maturity. You must let the parents/guardians of any child know the key findings of the risk assessment and the control measures put in place before the child starts work or work experience.

Before deciding whether you can employ a young person, you must consider:
● the layout of the workplace;
● any physical, biological and chemical agents they may be exposed to;
● the work equipment they will use;
● how work activities and processes are organised;
● the need for health and safety training.

In health and safety law, students and trainees on work experience are employees. Once you’ve assessed the risks to them, you must provide them with the same health, safety and welfare protection as other employees.

Health risks
Chainsaws expose operators to high levels of noise and hand-arm vibration, which can lead to hearing loss and conditions such as vibration white finger. These risks may be controlled by good management practice such as:
● buying low-noise/low-vibration chainsaws (eg with anti-vibration mounts and heated handles);
● providing suitable hearing protection;
● proper maintenance schedules for chainsaws and personal protective equipment (PPE);
● giving information and training to operators on the health risks associated with chainsaws and use of PPE etc.

Encourage existing chainsaw operators to report any signs or symptoms which may affect their ability to use a chainsaw safely or may indicate adverse health effects from noise and/or vibration. Employers are required to carry out health surveillance of their employees where they cannot reduce noise or hand-arm vibration exposure to safe levels.

Kentra also delivers Hand Arm Vibration awareness course, for up to 6 candidates. By the end of this practical 1 day course, operatives will know how to safely use their basic hand tools and how to take care of them. Together with the hazards of Vibrating tools, including Vibration white finger. Click HERE for more information.

Providing information, instruction and training
Everyone who works for you needs to know how to work safely and without risks to health. You must provide clear instructions, information and adequate training for your employees on:
● the risks they may face;
● measures in place to control the risks;
● how to follow any emergency procedures.

It is particularly important to consider the training needs and supervision of:
● new recruits and trainees;
● young people who are particularly vulnerable to accidents;
● people changing jobs, or taking on new responsibilities;
● health and safety representatives, who have particular laws relating to them.

Chainsaw use
Chainsaws are potentially dangerous machines, which can cause major injury if used by untrained people. Anyone who uses a chainsaw at work must receive adequate training and be competent in using a chainsaw for that type of work.

Training provision
Training needs to be carried out by suitably qualified instructors. We are a registered Training Provider and our chainsaw courses can be processed by the National Recognised Awarding Body – National Plant Operators registration Scheme (NPORS).

Where training is being consolidated through workplace-based experience, the trainee should be supervised by a person competent in using a chainsaw for the work being done by the trainee. The supervisor should hold the relevant competence certificate or award.

All chainsaw operators should do regular refresher/update training to ensure they work to industry best practice and maintain their levels of competence. The suggested intervals for refresher training are:
● occasional users – every two to three years;
● full-time users – every five years.

Selecting a chainsaw
There are two basic designs of chainsaw – ‘rear-handled’ and ‘top-handled’.

Rear-handled chainsaws
These have the rear handle projecting from the back of the saw. They are designed to be gripped and used with both hands, with the right hand on the rear handle.


Select chainsaws which will be suitable for the intended work. You may need a range of saws with different guide bar lengths. As a general rule, choose a chainsaw with the shortest guide bar suitable for the work. Training in how to use chainsaws will identify the type and size of saw most suited to a range of operations.

Top-handled chainsaws
These saws have the rear handle over the top of the engine. They are only suitable for use off the ground by trained competent arborists. They are not designed for use on the ground or as a substitute for small, rear-handled chainsaws.

Maintaining a chainsaw
Proper maintenance is essential if a chainsaw is to be safe to use and will provide protection against ill health from excessive noise and vibration. Maintain the saw in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations with all the safety devices in efficient working order and all guards in place. It will need to be regularly serviced by someone who is competent to do so.

Operators need to be trained in the correct chain-sharpening techniques and chain and guide bar maintenance to keep the saw in safe working condition. Operators need to report any damage or excessive wear from daily checks on the following:
● on/off switch;
● chain brake;
● chain catcher;
● silencer;
● guide bar, drive sprocket and chain links;
● side plate, front and rear hand guards;
● anti-vibration mounts;
● starting cord for correct tension.

Employers have duties concerning the provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) at work.
PPE is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear, safety harnesses and respiratory protective equipment.

PPE should only be used as a last resort, ie when all other ways to eliminate or reduce risks have been considered. When selecting PPE, make sure it’s CE marked and it suits the user in terms of size, fit etc. If more than one item of PPE is worn at the same time, make sure they can be used together, eg wearing safety glasses may disturb the seal of a respirator, causing air leaks.

Make sure that users of PPE are instructed and trained on its use and it is maintained and available at all times.

Protective clothing complying with the appropriate standard should provide a consistent level of resistance to chainsaw cut-through. Other clothing worn with the PPE needs to be close fitting and non-snagging.

Note: No protective equipment can ensure 100% protection against cutting by a hand-held chainsaw.

Relevant PPE standards:
Safety helmet to EN 397. It is recommended that arborists working from a rope and harness use a mountaineering style helmet.

Hearing protection to EN 352-1.

Eye protection: Mesh visors to EN 1731 or safety glasses to EN 166.

Upper body protection: Chainsaw jackets to BS EN 381-11. Chainsaw jackets can provide additional protection where operators are at increased risk (eg trainees, unavoidable use of a chainsaw above chest height). However, this needs to be weighed against increased heat stress generated by physical exertion (eg working from a rope and harness).

Gloves: The use of appropriate gloves is recommended under most circumstances. The type of glove will depend on a risk assessment of the task and machine. Consider the need for protection from cuts from the chainsaw, thorny material and cold/wet conditions. Where chainsaw gloves are required these need to be to EN 381-7.

Leg protection to EN 381-5. (All-round protection is recommended for arborists working in trees and occasional users, such as those working in agriculture.)

Chainsaw boots to BS EN ISO 20345:2004 and bearing a shield depicting a chainsaw to show compliance with EN 381-3. (For occasional users working on even ground where there is little risk of tripping or snagging on undergrowth or brash, protective gaiters conforming to EN 381-9 may be worn in combination with steel-toe-capped safety boots.)

Lone workers
Lone workers should not be put at more risk than other employees. Think about and deal with any health and safety risks before people work alone.

Consider the following:
● whether there is a need to assess areas of risk including violence, manual handling, the medical suitability of the individual to work alone and any risks arising from the nature of the workplace itself;
● whether there are any particular requirements for training and levels of experience needed;
● what systems might be needed to supervise and keep in touch with lone workers where a risk assessment shows this is necessary.

Avoid working alone with a chainsaw. Where this is not possible, make arrangements for raising the alarm if something goes wrong. These may include:
● regular contact with others using either a radio or telephone;
● someone regularly visiting the worksite;
● carrying a whistle to raise the alarm;
● an automatic signalling device which sends a signal at a preset time unless prevented from doing so;
● checks to ensure operators return to base or home at an agreed time.

First aid
You are responsible for making sure your employees receive immediate attention if taken ill or injured at work. Your arrangements will depend on the particular circumstances in your workplace and you need to assess what your first-aid needs are.
As a minimum, you must have:
● a suitably stocked first-aid box;
● an appointed person to take charge of first-aid arrangements;
● information for all employees giving details of first-aid arrangements.

You might decide that you need a first-aider, ie someone trained by an approved organisation, and who holds a qualification in first aid at work or emergency first aid at work.

There is no legal requirement for operators to hold an emergency first-aid at work certificate but we recommend they do so. Anyone working with chainsaws needs to be trained in emergency first aid, and in particular how to control major bleeding and deal with crush injuries. In remote sites, people who have been injured may also be at risk of hypothermia. Make sure operators always carry a personal first aid kit (incorporating a large wound dressing) with them and have reasonable access to a more comprehensive kit.

Manual handling
Manual handling causes over a third of all workplace injuries. These include work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as upper and lower limb pain/ disorders, and joint and repetitive strain injuries of various sorts.

Manual handling covers a wide variety of tasks including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying. If any of these tasks are not carried out appropriately, there is a risk of injury.

Manual handling injuries can have serious implications for both the employer and the person who has been injured. They can occur almost anywhere in the workplace and heavy manual labour, awkward postures and previous or existing injury can increase the risk.

Correct manual handling is part of doing the job properly. Recognised training courses are available for chainsaw work and for some other tasks involving timber handling. These will teach operators how to do the job safely and efficiently without putting their back at risk. We can provide Manual Handling for you operators, specially tailored to chainsaw operators. Click HERE for more information.

Working with chainsaws off the ground
Chainsaws should not be used off the ground unless the operator has been adequately trained in safe working techniques.

Our news publications this month will be focusing on Horticulture machinery and equipment. Everything from Tractors and Chainsaw’s to Leaf blowers, all of which are in use during this mid Autumn month.

We hope you have found this article on ‘Chainsaws at work’ of interest, and as always our office staff are available for you to Contact Us and happy to discuss any of your training queries.

Regards The Kentra Team


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