September 29, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Chainsaws are popular, labor-saving pieces of equipment around the home, farm and construction site. However, the same power that creates a useful machine, can lead to serious injuries when a chainsaw is improperly used.

More than 33,000 chainsaw-related injuries happen annually, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.

To reduce the risk of an incident, always have a chainsaw regularly inspected and serviced by a trained dealer to be sure it is in good working condition, wear proper personal protective equipment, and use the proper cutting technique to avoid kickback, said Jeff Stringer, associate professor and Extension forestry specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Maintenance should include sharp teeth, correct chain tension, proper lubrication, a well-tuned engine and functioning safety equipment. A chainsaw in good condition is safer and easier to operate and provides more productive use.

"Be sure the service dealer properly adjusts the carburetor to prevent stalling and poor performance that could lead to operator injury," Stringer said. "Before using a chainsaw, be sure it is in good condition, all safety devices are in working condition and the chain is correctly sharpened."

Stringer said it also is important to have several commercially sharpened saw chains to match your chainsaw and bar. Operators can quickly dull the chain by hitting ground with the tip, cutting dirty wood or hitting a rock or nails. A dull chain causes operators to compensate by applying extra pressure to cut faster and will increase the risk of injury.

Thoroughly read the owner's manual and follow safety and operating instructions. An inexperienced operator, or someone who has not used the chainsaw for a while, should occasionally review the manual. It also is good to learn the saw's capabilities and limitations.

All chainsaw operators should be properly trained, with those less experienced always closely supervised. Some chainsaw procedures should be undertaken only by a professional operator. These include removing branches from standing trees, taking out trees on wires, and cutting trees thicker than the bar length.

When a chainsaw is not in use, carry it with the bar facing backwards. Also cover the bar when not using a chainsaw.

Forty-one percent of total chainsaw injuries are to hands and arms; 39 percent to legs; 11 percent to heads and faces; six percent to feet and three percent to upper body.

"Wearing proper clothing and protective gear is one of the best ways to prevent serious injuries," Stringer said. "Wear sturdy, snug-fitting clothing that gives you complete freedom of movement. Avoid loose sleeve cuffs, cuffed pants, long hair or jewelry that could catch in the moving chain."

He recommended the following protective gear: chainsaw -resistant chaps or leggings that cover from the groin to about two inches above the ankles; sturdy, high-top boots or shoes with non-slip soles and steel toes; heavy-duty, non-slip cotton or leather gloves; safety glasses or a non-fogging, vented face shield; earplugs or muffs, and a properly fitted hard hat that is not cracked or discolored.

Chainsaw operators must be alert to avoid accidents, Stringer said. People should never use a chainsaw when they are tired, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or when weather conditions are not suitable. Avoid working alone or around children or pets.

Kickback is by far the most common cause of chainsaw accidents. It occurs when the chainsaw nose hits an obstruction and very rapidly flies back toward the operator. This can cause the chain to come into contact with the face, neck or other body parts with devastating results.

To reduce the risk of kickback injury, the American Red Cross recommends the following: use a reduced kickback bar, low kickback chain and chain brake; avoid bar tip contact with any object; firmly hold the chainsaw with both hands; do not over-reach and cut above shoulder height; frequently check the chain brake, and always follow chainsaw sharpening and maintenance instructions.

"If you already own a chainsaw that is not equipped with an anti-kickback chain, or 'low kickback chain,' ask a retailer about buying this type chain for added protection," Stringer said.

Other anti-kickback recommendations are to stand at an angle to the saw when cutting so the saw would miss the head and neck if a kickback occurred. When holding a chainsaw with both hands, keep the left elbow stiff to help keep the saw from striking you should it kickback. Stand to the left side of the chain when cutting logs from a tree so any kickback will go over the shoulder.

County Extension offices have additional information on chainsaw safety. Another source is the Master Logger Program site at


Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736 ext. 257
Sources: Jeff Stringer 859-257-5994