Chainsaw Accidents – PPE choice, training and bad chain brake practice.


Chainsaw Accidents – PPE choice, training and bad chain brake practice.

I recently heard about a chainsaw accident caused by a range of different factors, but ultimately it was due to not applying the chain brake before removing the right hand from the rear of the saw. The chain was still decelerating following a cut and was swung around the left of the body to make space and allow the right hand to pick up a product. It made contact with the lower left leg causing a serious cut despite the operator wearing type A class 1 chainsaw protective trousers.

This blog posts sets out the chainsaw personal protective equipment (PPE) options and looks at the things that contribute to PPE not being required. In a future blog post, I would like to explore the reasons accidents occur so stay tuned.

The PPE regulations state that PPE should be the last resort, where other fundamental controls have been applied and risks still remain. The industry as a whole would do well to revisit this crucial part of the regulations, and remember that applying correct techniques is part of that risk control process.

The HSE industry note 174 gives the following advice:

“PPE is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets and hard hats, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses”

We must remember the following:

  • that suitable PPE is provided;
  • that it offers adequate protection for its intended use;
  • that those using it are adequately trained in its safe use;
  • that it is properly maintained and any defects are reported;
  • that it is returned to its proper storage after use.

Leg protection is covered by EN381-2 & EN381-5 where they set out the physical location of the blocking material and the resistance to various chain speeds. We generally accept Type A front only protection trousers (with a 50mm strip on the left edge of each leg) for professional ground based operators and Type C all round protection for aerial chainsaw users and novice chainsaw users. Type A are generally cheaper so it’s not unusual to have a group equipped with a pair on a introductory chainsaw course. We only provide Type C trousers to clients. The minimum level of protection is Class 1/20m s-1. Running a short course is often a good way to focus on the important things you want people to leave remembering and putting in place.

I often start the course by saying, if they only leave with one bit of information - it’s to ensure the  chain brake is applied when not cutting. I also explain that it might help to look at this in the same way you might look at a seatbelt. At first you need to think about it and remember to put it on, but over time it becomes an automatic action – that’s where I want my trainees to be with this safety action.

The interesting - “four stages of competence” learning theory is of use here. Maybe I heard about it on the Lantra Instructional Techniques course?!


Unconscious incompetence – Stage 1

The individual does not know or understand how to do something, and may not appreciate how the skill could be of help to them. Clearly they must appreciate the value skill and have a desire to acquire it before moving on.


Conscious incompetence – Stage 2

The individual still does not have the skill but is now aware of the value of it and their own deficiencies, they are trying but not being successful, and this practice will likely lead on to the next stage.


Conscious competence – Stage 3

The individual understands or knows how to do something but getting it right requires concerted effort and concentration, perhaps taking longer, breaking into steps and with less fluency than the final stage.


Unconscious competence – Stage 4

With much practice the individual can now perform that skill or task without conscious thought or effort, perhaps even whilst performing another task. Teaching it to others may also be possible here.


Of course this elementary advice is not the whole story, and on an advanced chainsaw training course, such as Felling and processing trees over 380mm (L3), there might be a case for parking the saw and not applying the chain brake when removing cut material from the left side of the saw, BUT… there are extra safeguards here too. It’s easier to reduce chain brake use than to increase it.


Finally remember these key points for safe chainsaw use -

  • Planning – risk assessment, avoiding lone working, emergencies and first aid
  • Fitness and competence to operate
  • Machine condition & maintenance
  • Site organisation & safe distances
  • Ergonomics
  • Safe chainsaw handling or techniques
  • Breaks
  • Avoiding complacency over time.


Get in touch with us to find out more about our arborist training courses. We have a range of different chainsaw courses and run workshops from our site in Lamberhurt, Tunbridge Wells.