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Chainsaw Safety Practices for Rights-of-Way

We all enjoy watching television or listening to music at home, perhaps while eating a hot meal or drinking a shake we made in the blender – all activities made possible through the wonderful power of electricity. But our enjoyment is dampened when the power goes out, which is sometimes due to a fallen tree or fallen branches breaking electrical supply lines.

To help remove the debris and restore electrical services, line crews often use chainsaws. They have become essential tools, but it’s no secret that operating a chainsaw can be hazardous if the user doesn’t follow safe operating procedures. In this month’s Tailgate, I want to share the following tips for using a chainsaw on the ground to clear trees and branches in the right-of-way. Many of these best practices are directly from OSHA and will help operators ensure safe use of their chainsaws.

Before Starting the Chainsaw

  • Check controls, chain tension, and all bolts and handles to ensure that they are functioning properly and are adjusted per manufacturer instructions.
  • Make sure that the chain is sharp and the oil tank is full.
  • Use approved containers for transporting fuel to the saw.
  • Dispense fuel at least 10 feet away from any flames when performing construction activities. Do not smoke during fueling.
  • Use a funnel or a flexible hose when pouring fuel into the saw.
  • Don safety chaps to protect yourself from injuries in the event of an accident with the saw.
  • In addition, wear appropriate footwear, work gloves, a face shield, safety glasses, a hard hat and hearing protection.
  • Do not wear loose-fitting clothing.

Using the Chainsaw

  • For stability, start the saw while standing firmly on the ground. Do so away from the fueling area and with the chainsaw’s brake engaged.
  • Never attempt to fuel a running or hot saw.
  • Before cutting anything, clear away dirt, debris, small tree limbs and rocks from the saw’s chain path. You should also scan for nails, spikes or other metal in the tree before making any cuts.
  • When carrying the saw, first either shut it off or at least engage its chain brake, and completely shut off the saw when carrying it on rough or uneven terrain.
  • Always keep two hands on the saw’s handles and assure you maintain your balance while operating the saw.
  • Make sure that the tree trunk and limbs will not bind against the saw.
  • Be watchful for any branches under tension; they may spring out at you when cut.
  • Gasoline-powered chainsaws must be equipped with a protective device that minimizes chainsaw kickback. To further avoid kickback, don’t saw with the tip.
  • When not in use, be sure to put the chainsaw’s guard in place to prevent inadvertent injuries.

Using a chainsaw is an efficient, productive way of removing fallen trees and branches. It’s critical, however, that anyone using a chainsaw be competently trained in its use and always follow safe operating procedures. The guidance above will help to ensure your safety, but also review your company’s chainsaw policy for additional rules and guidance. Happy trimming!

About the Author: Luis Ortega, CUSP Emeritus, previously worked for Northline Utilities LLC as a safety specialist. Prior to assuming his last role, he retired from Consolidated Edison Co. of New York after a 30-year career. Ortega currently provides technical assistance to attorneys involved in electrical construction litigation cases. He holds a technical certificate from Power Technologies Inc. and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from The City College of New York. Reach him at

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