University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Safeguard Against Chainsaw Accidents

All of us use a chainsaw in the woods from time to time. With the ice storms this winter, many people have spent more time than they wanted clearing debris from lines, roads and equipment.

Remember, chainsaws are designed to cut…period. Saws have no conscience.

Kickback can be deadly. The reaction speed and force can change your life in a split second. Chainsaw chains move at a speed of 45 to 60 miles per hour, so you don't get a second chance. When sawing, keep the RPMs (revolutions per minute) up as there is less chance of a kickback. And never let the upper corner of the bar come in contact with wood.

Also, a sharp saw is a safe saw. While holding the saw, always keep your thumb wrapped around the handle grip. This locks your hand to the saw, so a kickback is less likely to tear it from your grip.

Safety equipment such as the chain brake must be properly maintained and used. Don't "save it" for when you think you need it. Use it every time you pick up the saw. Think of it like the brakes on your vehicle. You use them all the time. If you must take more than three steps, set the brake. Wear safety gear--chaps, helmet, steel-toed boots and snug-fitting, yet not restrictive clothes.

Look up, look around. Are there snags, broken limbs, "widow-makers" or electric lines overhead?  Always be aware of your surroundings and others who may be in the woods with you.

Is it windy? Probably not the safest time to be doing woods work. Are there other jobs that you can do now instead and return to the woods when it is calmer?

Spring poles, saplings bent over by a downed limb, are especially numerous after an ice storm and are a huge source of pent-up energy. 

Be very careful around them, releasing tension gradually from the underside. If you cut one of these from above, or it snapped and hit you, the force could be lethal. 

If you are not sure of the best approach or are dealing with a dangerous situation, don't attempt to do the job yourself. It's not worth the risk. Hire a trained chainsaw operator instead.

Training is for everyone, even the most experienced. The Game of Logging is a training program for anyone who handles a saw in the woods--novice, experienced and professionals. If you have the opportunity, take advantage of this course. It is taught through Northeast Woodland Training in Chester and is open to individuals as well as groups who want to host a course. Call (800) 681-8249 or visit for information.