The chainsaw is one of the most commonly used pieces of landscaping equipment. It’s a core part of the professionals’ power tool lineup and more often than not, the exclusive tool owned by everyday homeowners. Despite this, many users remain unsure how to answer a seemingly simple question: how dangerous are chainsaws?
Every chainsaw user will have a different response. Many turn a blind eye to the many threats that these power tools pose, assuming that, because they’ve never been injured, the risks must be minimal.
In reality, however, the simplest and most accurate answer to this question is that chainsaws can be extremely dangerous. This is most evident when you take a close look at the statistics, which reveal an alarming prevalence of chainsaw injuries.
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that, in a typical year, over 36,000 people are treated in the emergency room due to accidents involving chainsaws. What’s more, data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA suggests that over 250 people die every year as a result of chainsaw accidents. So, are chainsaws dangerous? The answer’s a resounding yes.
Ryobi RY3818 2 Cycle 38cc 18″ Chainsaw
With all that said, there are some significant caveats. Most people who use chainsaws will never be injured, in part because they emphasize safe operation. What’s more, the tools themselves have become a lot safer over time.
Because the risks associated with chainsaws can vary so much from one situation to the next, it’s important to understand the full scope of hazards — and how these relate to chainsaw brands and individual models. To that end, we’ve developed a thorough guide to chainsaw safety. If you want to know are top handle chainsaws dangerous or how to best protect yourself, everything will be covered.
Below, we’ll touch on the factors that can make chainsaws more or less dangerous for specific types of users. Along the way, you’ll learn what it takes to minimize the risk of injury so you can feel as confident as possible while making the most of your chainsaw.
What Can Make a Chainsaw Dangerous?
Now that you understand that chainsaws are indeed hazardous, the natural next question is: why are chainsaws so dangerous?
Again, the answer can be both simple and complex. The very structure of the chainsaw makes it a notoriously dangerous power tool, even when you are equipped with high-quality protective gear and thoroughly trained in proper operation. These power tools are only able to accomplish their most impressive feats because they deliver so much power and have such sharp chains.
Many of the most significant safety issues associated with the best chainsaws are built into the tools themselves, and therefore, all but impossible to escape. Other concerns may accompany poor maintenance or problematic technique. Top issues that contribute to common chainsaw injuries include:
Risk of Kickback
As one of the most common causes of chainsaw accidents, kickback typically occurs when the moving chain strikes an object near the nose or tip of the guide bar. This area is commonly referred to as the kickback zone.
Kickback is also possible if the chain is pinched as the wood closes in. Either way, the same result can be expected: a sudden jolt involving an upward motion. Some users refer to this motion as the chainsaw “biting back.” The intensity of that bite tends to reflect the extent to which the chainsaw is stuck.
Proper maintenance can limit the potential for kickback, but it may also be worth your while to invest in a model equipped with a specially designed low-kickback chain. Also known as low-profile or semi-chisel chains, these are ideal for beginners, who may otherwise struggle to identify potential snags or resolve them before kickback occurs.
A dull chain is the ultimate maintenance no-no. Not only does this limit the precision of your cuts, it can also present significant safety hazards. Chief among these? Kickback, which is more likely when dull teeth are unable to properly cut through the wood. Sharp teeth, on the other hand, are unlikely to get stuck.
Unfortunately, it can be easy to neglect chain sharpening and let them get dull over time. The pace of dulling can be slowed by properly lubricating the chain and avoiding wet or dirty wood.
More importantly, however, the chain should be sharpened regularly. How often will depend on the extent to which the chainsaw is used, although many people make a point of sharpening their chainsaws whenever they fuel up.
- This portable universal chainsaw sharpening kit by Oregon makes it easy to keep your chainsaws, pole saws, and other tools sharp and ready to go
- This versatile kit includes 1 x 5/32 Inch round saw chain file, 1 x 3/16 Inch round saw chain file, 1 x 7/32 Inch round saw chain file, 1 x 6 Inch flat file, 1 x file guide, 1 x universal file handle, and travel pouch
- With the handy file guide, you can ensure easy depth gauge setting and accurate, consistent results when sharpening your chains
- This field kit comes with a detailed instruction sheet, including a filing chart to help you align the right filing tool and technique to your chain
- This chainsaw blade sharpening kit comes in a compact rolled canvas pouch with inner pockets for each tool and a secure loop closure, perfect for taking from job to job
Corded chainsaws, while affordable and easy to run, come with their own unique set of hazards. Accidental starting is possible, as it can be easy for users to forget that their chainsaws are already plugged in and ready to go.
If the extension cord is too light or too long, motor overheating is possible. Regular inspections of the cord are essential. The plug and socket should frequently be checked as well. If operating your chainsaw near power lines, confirm that these have been de-energized before you get started.
Another electrical chainsaw safety concern worth discussing? The potential for users or other people to trip over the cord. This might not seem like as urgent of an issue as the kickback concerns highlighted above, but cord placement definitely deserves attention.
Failure to Complete Basic Maintenance
Chain sharpening is just one of many important maintenance tasks that must be completed on a regular basis to minimize the aforementioned safety risks.
Chainsaw maintenance is a comprehensive process that involves a wide variety of steps and routines. These vary from one model to the next but nearly always include the following essentials:
- Cleaning the chainsaw: Every time you use your chainsaw, it should be thoroughly wiped down before it’s put away.
- Lubricating the blade: Proper lubrication reduces the friction that is naturally produced by the chain running over the bar. Specific types of oil are needed for the guide bar as opposed to the chainsaw’s engine.
- Sharpening the chain: If you ever feel as if you’re forcing a cut, the chain is probably too dull. As we’ve explained, how often you sharpen it will depend, to some extent, on how often you use it and for which jobs.
Common Chainsaw-Related Injuries
While we’ve already identified kickback as one of the top sources of injury, the location and severity of the damage can vary based on a variety of factors. The following are among the most common injuries suffered by chainsaw users:
Typically both deep and jagged, chainsaw lacerations can leave deep scars and, depending on where they occur, may contribute to an alarming level of blood loss. Research suggests that this is the predominant chainsaw injury that results in trips to urgent care or the emergency room. Name a body part and chances are, it will be susceptible to lacerations if not protected.
If not properly treated, chainsaw-related lacerations can easily become infected. Often, these cuts are thoroughly exposed to dirt, sawdust, wood chips, or even metal. In other cases, victims of chainsaw accidents suffer hospital-acquired infections as they await treatment. With deep wounds, antibiotics may prove necessary to either address current infections or limit the potential for future issues.
Severed Muscles or Tendons
Surface-level lacerations are alarming enough as is, but these injuries sometimes go beyond the skin to involve severed muscles or tendons. Recovery times for these injuries can be lengthy, with nerve grafts and other high-level procedures often required.
Loss of Limbs
From fingers to hands or even entire limbs, it is far from unheard of for victims to lose body parts after coming into contact with chainsaws. In some cases, loss of limb may not occur until days or even weeks after the injury, with amputations often required as a result of severe infections.
Injuries from Falling
In some cases, chainsaws are not the primary cause of severe injuries but contribute to them nonetheless. For example, the risk of injury is far greater when operating a chainsaw while using a ladder.
If the chainsaw throws the user off balance and results in a fall, sprains, fractures, or concussions are possible. Worse, victims can still come into contact with chainsaws, making them also vulnerable to the full range of injuries highlighted above.
Although not as common as some of the injuries mentioned previously, eye damage is certainly possible if chainsaws are used without proper protective equipment. Typically, the eyelids are more vulnerable than the eyes themselves. Corneal abrasions are common but not usually caused directly by the chainsaw. Rather, victims may come into contact with sawdust or wood chips.
Although nowhere near as common or well-known as the acute injuries identified above, overuse can be a significant problem among regular users who commit a great deal of time to power tools such as chainsaws. Often, these injuries result from poor posture, along with less-than-ideal ergonomics for the chainsaw itself.
Safety Tips for Proper Chainsaw Use
Now that you know the full scope of chainsaw injuries that can strike as you complete everyday tasks, you might be feeling nervous about picking up this common power tool.
Avoidance isn’t necessary, however. If you know how to properly handle chainsaws and commit to safety protocol, you have nothing to fear. Follow these simple suggestions to reduce the risk of injury:
1.) Use Proper Safety Equipment
Even the most experienced chainsaw users are prone to kickback. As such, safety equipment is always crucial. We’ll dive into details later. but for now, it’s enough to know that equipment should never be neglected, no matter how minor the job at hand might seem.
2.) Practice Proper Techniques When Using Your Chainsaw
A solid stance is crucial for safely and effectively operating a chainsaw. Begin by adopting a wide stance and slightly staggered feet. This provides a strong base and will promote better balance.
How you hold your hands can play heavily into whether you’re susceptible to kickback or other issues. A steady grip is key, with both the thumbs and fingers wrapped completely around the handle. Avoid holding the saw close to your body.
To protect your back from overuse injuries, resist the urge to curve your spine when you need to move the chainsaw lower. Instead, bend your knees, as you would when shoveling or picking up heavy objects.
3.) Pay Attention to Others
If other people are nearby when you’re working with a chainsaw, take a break and encourage them to move further away. At minimum, they should maintain a distance of ten yards from the chainsaw at all times. If you’re using the chainsaw to fell a tree, this distance should be doubled or even tripled. If they are at all close to your chainsaw, these people should wear similar equipment to what you rely on when actively using the device.
4.) Seek Out Adequate Training
If you’re not fully confident in your stance or your ability to properly maintain your chainsaw, it’s imperative that you secure outside help. This could be as simple as getting advice from a friend or family member with extensive chainsaw experience.
Better yet, take a class. While loved ones may be well-versed in chainsaw operation, they may not be in the habit of operating these power tools safely. Training is available from a variety of resources, so don’t hesitate to ask for assistance. A wide array of safety and certification courses are available, including several offered online for greater convenience.
5.) Take Plenty of Breaks
Fatigue, both physical and mental, can be a huge risk factor for chainsaw operation. The more tired you feel, the worse your posture will become over time — and the more vulnerable you’ll be to kickback and other issues.
These risks are best mitigated by simply taking breaks on a regular basis. Don’t hesitate to step away from the task at hand for a few minutes so you can grab a drink of water and recharge. You just might find that backing off for a moment actually helps you get the job done more efficiently.
Safety Features Found on Most Chainsaws
While every user should abide by the safety recommendations detailed above, proper chainsaw selection can also make a difference. When in doubt, look for models that incorporate some or all of these safety features:
The triggers on engine throttles are sometimes activated unexpectedly. For example, they may come into contact with branches or other obstructions. No matter how this occurs, it’s dangerous for the user. A throttle lock or safety throttle mitigates this hazard, ensuring that the throttle only functions if the lock is engaged.
In the event the chain becomes derailed, a chain catcher or a chain brake can essentially grab it and shorten it before it’s thrown back at the user. Over time, this feature not only enhances safety, but also limits the need for expensive repairs to the fuel tank or sprocket covers. As the guide bar begins to show wear and tear, the chain catcher may become less effective, so replacements may prove necessary.
Low Kickback Chains
Chain design heavily influences whether chainsaws are vulnerable to kickback. Many brands specifically identify which chains have been designed to reduce key risks, particularly for novices.
Stihl, for example, uses a green and yellow color coding system. Chainsaws marked with green adhere closely to the ANSI B175.1 kickback standard. These are preferable in most situations. When extra cutting power is needed, however, yellow chains with lesser kickback protection are available.
While a chain adjuster isn’t as obviously tied to safety as the aforementioned chain catcher, it can prove beneficial by ensuring that the chain remains sufficiently tight.
With improper tension, the chain is far more likely to derail. What’s more, a loose chain will struggle to feed into the wood as needed, thereby prompting the user to bear down excessively on the guide bar.
While many people are successfully able to adjust chains on their own, features such as Stihl’s Quick Chain Adjuster improve the likelihood of maintaining a safe level of chain tension.
Often referred to as an anti-kickback pawl, a kickback guard is an attachment designed to reduce common hazards such as sudden upward motions. These are frequently installed on table or radial arm saws but are also available for select chainsaws, such as certain models from Husqvarna.
Protective Equipment for Proper Chainsaw Use
Even if you select the best chainsaw loaded with the most advanced safety features, the potential for injury remains high. As such, you should never embark on a chainsaw project without using protective equipment. Curious about what safety equipment should be worn when operating a chainsaw? Essential chainsaw safety gear includes:
As we’ve mentioned, accidents involving kickback result in sharp, upward motions that can make the eyes vulnerable. Similarly, exposure to sawdust or wood chips can cause corneal abrasions. Hence, the need for eye protection.
In most cases, chainsaw users turn to one of two main options:
- Safety glasses or goggles: Often constructed from polycarbonate, impact-resistant glasses and goggles protect your eyes from both exposure to debris and blunt force trauma. Many include lens coatings that protect against scratches, UV rays, and more.
- DEWALT tough Coat hard coated lens provides tough protection against scratches
- DEWALT Xtra clear anti-fog lens coating provides tough protection against fogging
- Soft, dual injected rubber conforms to the face to provide a high level protection from dust and debris
- Adjustable, elastic cloth head strap provides a comfortable fit
- Ventilation channels allow breathability and added protection against fogging
- Face shields with mesh visors: Meant to keep flying dust or chips away from the face, mesh visors limit the prospect of fogging. These are also easy to raise and lower as needed.
- 5 in 1 safety helmet comes with helmet, adjustable/removable earmuffs, plastic visor, and mesh visor, providing dynamic protection for any job
- Provides the protection you need when using chainsaws, brush cutters, and trimmers, ideal for forestry type work.Noise Reduction:SNR 26dB
- Secures firmly on head and convenient dial knob makes it easy to adjust the circumference 20 - 24.5 inches (52-62 centimeters)
- Lightweight, interchangeable mesh and plastic visors provide shielding from debris
- All parts are ANSI and CE approved - Helmet carries a Z89.1-2003 ANSI rating
Your ears might not be as obviously vulnerable as other parts of the body, but they also require protection. Top options include ear plugs and ear muffs, both of which limit exposure to potentially harmful levels of noise. Muffs are generally preferable to plugs, as they offer more robust protection.
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Many familiar brands offer equipment specifically designed to protect users’ ears. Stihl, for example, sells several types of ear muffs. Husqvarna also offers hearing protectors, as do DeWalt, Black + Decker, and Ryobi. Some models incorporate technologically advanced solutions that also allow you to listen to music or make calls.
Many chainsaw lacerations involve the arms, legs, or torso. As such, these areas are just as in need of protection as the eyes, ears, hands, and head. Don’t rely on your everyday apparel to provide adequate protection; you’ll need something a lot more robust.
Your chainsaw wardrobe should begin with cut-resistant legwear. Regular users typically invest in chainsaw chaps, which are buckled over your typical pants. The chaps are often constructed from Kevlar or other materials capable of stopping chainsaws upon contact.
- 1000 denier polyester with PVC coating with Tek warp protective layers
- Adjustable waist size to 42 inches. Overall length is from the waist to the ankle
- Felling wedge/gear pocket and acetyl Delran buckles
- Meets ASTM f1897, ANSI z133.1, And OSHA regulation 1910-266
- Ul certified
As with muffs, gloves, and other accessories, high-quality chainsaw chaps are available from top brands such as Husqvarna and Stihl. When selecting a pair, aim for a proper fit — they should not leave your lower legs exposed. Still, these designs should be streamlined enough to prevent your clothes from catching on branches.
In addition to leg protection, consider adding a Kevlar vest and a cut-retardant shirt to the mix. These bring the trademark protection of chainsaw chaps to your upper body, which is just as vulnerable to injury. Again, look for full coverage while avoiding anything that might get snagged.
Often neglected but definitely important, chainsaw gloves provide much-needed cut protection. These can be constructed from a variety of materials, such as leather or Kevlar. They usually incorporate multiple layers.
- Highlights: New Pro Chainsaw Gloves With Saw Protection Shaped And Reinforced Palm Exposed Areas Are Seamless And Reinforced With Leather Waterproof Kid Leather Palm And Hard-Wearing, Water-Repellant Polyester Back Fluorescent Back, Knitted Cuffs Meets Requirements Of En 381-4-7, En 420:1, En 388
- Upc: 036577555216
- Weight: 31.860 Lbs
- No Assembly Required
As with the chaps and other clothing mentioned previously, the inner layer is meant to halt the chainsaw as soon as the loose fibers get caught in the sprocket. The outer layer should be weather-proof. Look for a comfortable pair that allows you to move freely as you operate your chainsaw.
Look at Ratings
As with chainsaw selection, strategic shopping matters for protective gear. Ideally, these will be UL (Underwriters Laboratories) rated. This means that these products have been rigorously tested. Customer ratings may also play into your decision, as you still want your gear to fit comfortably and hold up to heavy use.
Practice Chainsaw Safety While Using These Dangerous Tools
There’s no escaping the severe risk of using a modern chainsaw. While today’s models come equipped with many impressive safety features, their very structure still makes them risky to operate, even in the best of circumstances.
There’s a lot to be concerned about, but that doesn’t mean you need to avoid chainsaws completely. If you seek high-quality training, commit to maintaining your chainsaw, and wear plenty of protective gear, you should be able to make the most of your chainsaw without suffering common injuries.
You’ll never regret doing what it takes to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.