MRO Magazine

How to work safely with chain saws

Making the Cut - Safely

Health & Safety

October 5, 2012
By MRO Magazine

Making the Cut – Safely

Hamilton, ON — Each year many people are injured while using chain saws, notes the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) in its latest Health and Safety Report (Vol. 10, Issue 9). The hands, knees, feet and head are most vulnerable to being cut by the chain saw chain. However if you use a chain saw often, there are also other health risks such as hearing loss from the noise of the chain saw; damage to the hands from vibration; poisoning from chain saw exhaust gases if used in enclosed spaces; and the risk of fire from fuel spillage.

The CCOHS report provided a list of valuable do’s and don’ts of cutting with a chain saw, reproduced here with the aim of helping you prevent injuries.

Before you start

  • Only use chain saws that you have been trained to use properly and safely.
  • Read the owner’s manual carefully.
  • Wear personal protective equipment and clothing: See CCOHS’ OSH Answers Chain Saws – Personal Protective Equipment for more detailed information (
  • Use only chain saws that have been manufactured and maintained according to standards like the CSA Standard Z62.1-03 (R2008) “Chain Saws” and that are equipped with a safety chain and chain brake. Check legislation in your jurisdiction for other requirements.
  • Know how to use the controls before starting a chain saw.
  • Remove the chain guard (scabbard) and inspect the saw and machine for damaged, loose, missing parts, or other signs of wear, or leaks around the engine before starting.
  • Ensure that the guide bar is tight and chain fits snugly without binding; adjust the chain tension, if required.
  • Inspect the saw chain to ensure it is properly lubricated and is sharp. Sharpen and lubricate, as needed.
  • Check the air filter and clean when needed.
  • Check the muffler spark arrestor screen, if present. Spark arrestor screens help reduce the risk of fire, especially in dry forest conditions.
  • Inspect the chain catcher – it helps reduce the risk of injury when a chain breaks or comes off the guide bar.
  • Ensure that chain is clear of obstructions before starting.
  • Engage the chain brake before starting the chain saw.
  • Warm up the saw prior to cutting. The saw should idle without the chain turning. If the chain continues to turn after the throttle switch is released, stop the saw. Then adjust the idle as shown in the owner’s manual.
  • Check that the throttle trigger, throttle trigger interlock, master control lever, etc. are operating properly.
  • Plan each job before you start. Arrange to have help.

Do not

  • Do not use a saw if it has damaged, improperly adjusted, or has loose or missing parts.
  • Do not “drop start” (starting a saw in hands) or when a chain saw is touching your body. This method leaves only one hand to control a running saw and can result in leg cuts.
  • Do not start a saw unless it is at least 3 meters (10 feet) from any approved fuel safety containers.
  • Do not make adjustments to the chain or guide bar when the motor is running.

When cutting with a chain saw:

  • Carry the chain saw by its front handle, with the muffler away from your body and the guard bar pointing behind you.
  • Know the location of the persons working with you at all times.
  • Use the correct saw. The weight, power, and bar length should all be suitable for the job.
  • Operate the chain saw in well-ventilated areas only.
  • Ensure that you have secure footing and that your stance is well balanced.
  • Hold the saw firmly on the ground using your foot, or by holding the powerhead down with one hand. Point the chain away from your body and nearby obstructions. Use a quick, sharp motion on the starter cord.
  • Operate the chain saw in a firm two-handed grip with fingers and thumb surrounding the handles. Keep both feet firmly positioned when operating a chain saw.
  • Maintain full power throughout each cut.
  • Ensure that the chain does not move when the chain saw is idling.
  • Turn off the chain saw before refuelling or doing any maintenance.
  • Keep your saw clean — free of sawdust, dirt and oil.
  • Wear safety gloves or mitts when sharpening the chain.

Do not

  • Do not start a chain saw when it is resting against any part of your body.
  • Do not refuel a chain saw within 3 m (10 ft) of a fuel storage container.
  • Do not stand directly behind the saw.
  • Do not leave a saw running unattended.
  • Do not carry chain saws while it is running.
  • Avoid contact with the muffler. Serious skin burns may result.
  • Do not cut alone.

For detailed information, read the CCOHS’ OSH Answers fact sheet on the safe use of chain saws, which can be found at