Chainsaw Safety, Part III: Unsafe Practices

Chainsaw Safety, Part One

Chainsaw Safety, Part Two

This is the third installment in a series on chainsaw safety and operation, as part of our CCE Chenango grant project done in collaboration with the New York Farm Viability Institute, “Increased Farm Profitability and Diversity through Value-Added Forest Products Initiative”.  We have been encouraging farmers and woodland owners to develop forest based enterprises, many of which at one time or another require the safe use of chainsaws. In Part 1 (Fall 2017) we discussed personal protective equipment that is needed for the safe operation of chainsaws. In Part 2 (Winter 2018) we elaborated on the specifics of each component needed for a fully functional personal protective system, which includes protection for head, hearing, eye, leg, feet, and hands.  In this article we will discuss some of the specific unsafe and hazardous practices which commonly lead to chainsaw and tree felling injuries.

As mentioned previously, I have seen a number of television shows which depict chainsaw users committing horribly unsafe and dangerous practices, as well as having frequently witnessed such acts in person. I will list just a few of the many unsafe practices which can lead to injury or death; as a farm owner you must not allow you or anyone working on your farm, either as an employee or just a casual woodcutter to conduct themselves in an unsafe manner.

The first major violation that I see is not using proper personal protective equipment, such as a proper helmet with head, eye, ear, and face protection. Next would be not using safety leggings or chaps. The majority of chainsaw injuries occur in the lower leg region. Finally, not wearing proper foot gear can result in cuts or feet being crushed under rolling logs.

The next area where I see a lot of safety violations is in the use of the chainsaw itself. Running a saw with a loose chain is hazardous, as the chain can fly off if it’s not properly tightened.  Running a chainsaw with a dull chain tends to have the operator try to force the chain through the log, causing fatigue and inefficient use of the saw. There are several different ways to sharpen a chainsaw; attendance at a chainsaw safety course will get your sharpening techniques up to par. The chainsaw owner’s manual will show the proper chain tension, as well as the proper techniques to properly sharpening the chain.

Probably the most common and egregious error that I have seen is the “drop starting” of chainsaws. This is done by holding the saw in one hand and pulling the start cord with the saw held unsecured, with the other hand, in the air. The saw needs to be either on the ground or held and braced securely against a leg.

Oh, by the way, are you left handed?  Sorry, but you cannot safely run a chainsaw left handed, and you are going to have to use it right handed.  Using a chainsaw left handed can result in the chain being pulled back into your vulnerable body if it kicks back.

Kickback injuries: kickback occurs when the tip of the saw chain bounces back towards the operator, sometimes penetrating bones and flesh. These types injuries can be prevented by not letting the top tip end of the bar hit something. I personally wear the scars on my face and left clavicle from a long ago kick back injury that occurred in 1983, and which I still occasionally feel slight pain from! Avoid kickback!

The chainsaw must be properly maintained, and a tool kit with all of the necessary tools must be close by, as well as a well-stocked first aid kit. It’s always a good idea to not work alone in the woods, or if you have to, to have your cell phone on your person so that you can call for emergency help if you need it. If you hurt yourself, it does no good to have the phone “back in the truck” several hundred yards away.
Be safe! Arms, legs, and fingers do not grow back! 00001 1q1bfeo

Avatar of Talia Isaacson

Talia Isaacson

Talia is originally from San Diego, CA, but her passion for agriculture mostly developed on the coast of Maine, where she lived and worked on an educational diversified farm throughout parts of her high school years. Since then, Talia has spent time working on various farms in both Vermont and Arkansas, which has further solidified her interest in small-scale agriculture and its myriad intersections with community welfare, environmental sustainability, and education. She is a senior in the English department at Cornell and began working for the Cornell Small Farms Program in early 2018. Talia also works for the Local & Regional Food Systems initiative.


  1. Avatar of Alex Jordan Alex Jordan on October 11, 2018 at 3:31 am

    It is very important to become familiar with the recommended safe operational procedures before attempting to work with a chain saw. A safe way to prepare yourself ( for operating a chain saw is to read the operator’s manual and obtain training from someone who is experienced with chain saws. Most chain saw injuries involve contact with the cutting chain, which results in severe injury to the hands, legs, feet and head. Preventing such injuries in the workplace requires a joint effort on the part of both employee and employer. Employees should use proper personal protective equipment, chain saws with the latest safety equipment and proper techniques when cutting. Employers must provide chain saw safety training and supervision.

    • Kelsie Raucher on October 26, 2018 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Alex,
      We also have a series of chainsaw safety articles that have been published in the Small Farm Quarterly.

  2. Avatar of JacobMason JacobMason on February 2, 2019 at 10:13 am

    How do you choose the best choose the best product among the ones listed here?

  3. Avatar of Charles Camber Charles Camber on October 23, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Some Chain brakes stop the chain when the bar kicks back at the operator.
    Always hold the handle with the left hand fingers on top of the bar and the
    thumb in under the bar so the saw can not kick back out of your hand.

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