Farm safety: what I learned on a two-day chainsaw safety course
News correspondent Thomas Hubert took the basic chainsaw course with FRS and shares his experience.

What is it?

FRS Training offers a QQI Level 5 Chainsaw Maintenance and Operations course. It takes two days, usually one week apart, scheduled regularly at various locations around the country (see The cost is €200. This course was delivered in Co Cavan by local trainer Kieran McGovern.

Participants can bring their equipment, but chainsaws and personal protective equipment (PPE) are provided if you don’t have them. A simple written assessment is used to check that you remember key messages from the course.

Know your chainsaw

The first day of the course takes place indoors and begins with an exploration of the safety features on the chainsaw. You learn how to check that the brake, chain tension, kickback protection, chain catcher and other devices are in order.


FRS trainer Kieran McGovern demonstrates chain sharpening techniques. \ Thomas Hubert

The course includes practical training on how to sharpen your chain, from choosing the correct file to the technique needed to maintain good cutting condition. “Always bring a file with you,” said Kieran. “If your chain goes blunt when you’re nearly finished, you’ll be tempted to keep going rather than go home and sharpen it,” increasing the risk of accident.

Maintenance training also covers cleaning the machine, checking filters and the spark plug, fuel and oil quality and adjusting chain tension.

Personal protective equipment

Chainsaw safety boots, trousers, gloves and helmet. \ Thomas Hubert

A large portion of the course covers PPE. A helmet with mesh visor and ear protection is essential, as well as chainsaw safety trousers or chaps, gloves and boots incorporating a material that will catch in the chain and jam it upon contact. Jackets are available too. Noise levels are explained (see box). Kieran had detailed information on local or online safety gear suppliers and price ranges. “Boots, helmet, gloves and trousers are a must when you’re using a chainsaw,” he said.

Site assessment

FRS trainer Kieran McGovern demonstrates a risk assessment at the site of a fallen tree. \ Thomas Hubert

The second day takes place at the site of fallen trees outdoors. Storm Ali provided enough of this in Co Cavan. All pieces of timber bearing weight or threatening to become dislodged should be identified, and moved with a tractor or digger before cutting. Before starting, it’s also important to clear debris and trip hazards from the area where you’ll be standing.

“Always have two people, or at least let someone know where you’re going,” Kieran said.

Safe start

A chainsaw should be flat on the ground and held in place with the operator’s heel on the handle before pulling the starter cord.

Kieran said many farmers use the weight of the chainsaw by dropping it down while pulling the cord, but it can be difficult to control and there is a high risk of leg injury as it dangles around. As soon as the engine is running, test the brake to make sure it stops the chain. You should also run the chainsaw at full speed with the end of the chain close to a piece of timber to ensure that it is oiling properly: a spray of oil droplets will appear on the surface.

Safe operation

Rule number one for Kieran is to always apply the brake before changing position. This will rule out injury from the spinning chain if you trip. The main cutting position should be standing firmly on your two legs with the chainsaw to the right of your lower body.

Never use a chainsaw on a ladder. Holding the machine with firm outstretched arms reduces the risk of injury in case of kickback: your arms will form an arc and deflect the chainsaw from your body, whereas limp arms will fold against kickback towards you. The course also includes demonstrations of safe positions for branching and moving along a fallen tree, and how to deal with tension and compression caused by the timber’s weight.

Know your noise levels

FRS trainer Kieran McGovern explains the different levels of ear protection. \ Thomas Hubert

The safety decal on your chainsaw indicates its noise level – typically over 100dB. Yet under Irish law, 85dB is the maximum allowed for an eight-hour work day, and 80db the recommended value. Anything over that will cause ear damage. More dramatically, every 3dB over this divides the safe operating time by half, which means a 106dB chainsaw can be used safely for under four minutes only (see graph).

Ear muffs come in different strengths with an attenuation value attached, depending on the thickness of the inside foam. By deducting the attenuation value from your chainsaw’s noise level, you can determine the safe operating time when wearing protection. A 106dB chainsaw would require at least 31dB ear muffs to be used for eight hours.

Tax benefits of investing in health and safety
There are a number of ways a farmer can make a farm safer while also benefiting from paying less tax

There are plenty of ways to invest on your farm to try reduce your annual tax bill. But have you ever considered investing in safety measures that also save on your tax bill? We look at just some of the options available to farmers that can reduce the tax bill.

Proactively investing in health and safety can help lower the number of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses on farms. It can boost a farm’s bottom line through savings in the tax bill while also improving productivity and farm safety.

Invest in keeping children safe

Adults have a huge responsibility to make sure that the risks posed to children on a farm are assessed and controls put in place to prevent death and injury.

  • To eliminate the risk of drowning, all open water tanks, wells and slurry tanks should be fenced off. The cost of fencing can be written off against tax.
  • Invest in child passenger seats with safety belts – children between the ages of seven and 16 may ride on a tractor provided the tractor is fitted with a properly designed and fitted passenger seat (with seatbelt) inside a safety cab or frame. The cost of child seats can be written off against tax.
  • Invest in a safe supply of electricity

    Risks from electrocution can be reduced or eliminated by investing. Any investment in infrastructure can be written off against a farm’s tax bill.

  • The fuse board should be regularly inspected by a competent electrician. The cost of service can be expensed.
  • Regularly check for and replace immediately any frayed and damaged cables around the farmyard. Place leads and cables in positions where they will be safe from damage. The cost of maintenance can be written off against tax.
  • Replace any domestic-type sockets, plugs or switches in farm buildings with the correct specification. This cost can be written off against tax.
  • Invest in a generator

    A portable generator is a useful farm investment and its cost can be written off against tax. If investing, it should have industrial-type sockets located on the generator frame for connection.

  • Generators supplying permanent wired installations should have mechanically interlocked switching facilities between ESB and generator supplies. The switch should be clearly marked to show the ESB generator on and off positions.
  • ESB Networks requires notification when a standby generator is to be installed on a farm.
  • Invest in farm fences

    Fences help prevent livestock from entering public places such as roads, which could cause an accident. Any investment in fencing is allowed against farm expenses.

  • Don’t run fences parallel to power lines because dangerous induced voltages might result.
  • Keep fence earth a minimum of 10m from main installation earth.
  • Never electrify barbed wire.
  • Maintain safe clearances from overhead wires.
  • Invest in safe shed doors

    Large doors which open on hinges can be a hazard on farms, especially if there are high winds. Replace hanging doors with roller-type doors. Any cost can be expensed and help reduce a farm’s tax bill.

    Invest in a cattle crush

    A well-built and functional cattle crush can help improve farm safety. The cost of a cattle crush can be written off against a farm’s tax bill.

    Other investments that will help make farmyards safer and can reduce a farm’s tax bill:

  • Avoid slips and trips by keeping the farmyard and farm buildings tidy at all times.
  • Invest in adequate lighting in the farmyard and buildings.
  • Put a vermin control programme in place on your farm.
  • Provide suitable washing and toilet facilities on your farm.
    Environment: slurry agitation safety
    As farmers gear up for slurry spreading, it is important to take all the necessary precautions to avoid accidents

    Over the coming weeks the focus will start turning to slurry spreading. Weather conditions and land trafficability at the moment are ideal and the hope is this trend will continue into the open period. Preparation for slurry spreading can be a dangerous task and farmers need to be fully alert to the dangers.

    In the Machinery section, slurry safety is covered in detail. One of the highest risk periods when working with slurry is agitating. There are a number of toxic gases that can be released during the agitation process such as hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, methane and carbon dioxide. We all need to be aware of the dangers and take precautions to avoid encounters with these poisonous gases. Slurry contractors also need to be made aware of the dangers. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has outlined a number of steps that should be taken every time you agitate. The top 10 are:

  • Evacuate and ventilate before you agitate.
  • Never agitate slurry in still air conditions.
  • Move all animals out of the shed before starting.
  • At least two people should be present at all times.
  • Keep children and elderly persons away from the area when agitating.
  • Open all doors and outlets to provide a draught.
  • Never stand over slats or near tank access points when agitation is in progress.
  • Avoid vigorous agitation in confined spaces.
  • Do not allow slurry to rise within 300mm of the slats or tank covers.
  • Keep all people away from the agitation point for 30 minutes after starting agitation.
  • Drowning is another slurry danger. According to the HSA it is the most common cause of death involving slurry. We all need to make sure manholes are covered securely and children are kept away when working with slurry. Scrape holes on outdoor lagoons should be adequately protected. Open slurry tanks should be protected by an unclimbable fence or wall at least 1.8 metres high, with locked gates. Covered or slatted tanks require access manholes that children cannot open easily. Fit a safety grid below the manhole to give secondary protection.

    What can we change in 2019 to make our farm safer?
    Peter Varley talks to senior inspector with the Health and Safety Authority about what every farmer's mindset needs to be to avoid accidents happening.

    Pat Griffin is the senior inspector with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). He has seen it all when it comes to farm-related accidents. Pat shared some very good advice with the Irish Farmers Journal based on his experiences in the HSA.

    Pat believes that with some small changes to the everyday routine, farmers can make a big difference where safety is concerned. “When it comes to farm-related accidents, we always hear about the dreadful fatalities in the press. What we don’t hear about is the 3,000 non-fatal accidents that happen on farms annually,” Pat said. “These accidents are non-fatal but they can be very serious and often life-changing both for the individual and the extended family. Sadly, there are farmers confined to wheelchairs for life or who have suffered loss of limbs, due to these life changing accidents.”

    Pat added that other serious accidents have seen farmers unable to work for up to 100 days and the cost implications are huge. He believes one of the main causes of many of these accidents is simply from rushing around because adequate time is not given to planning out the working day.


    Pat says 2019 should be the year that the circumstances which often lead to these serious accidents are changed for good.

    “This is where planning comes in. Consider the coming day’s work, preferably the night before or at least early in the morning. Identify the critical work that must to be done. Don’t put this critical necessary work on the long finger.

    "You don’t want to be in a situation where you are running around at the end of the day trying to complete it,” he said.

    “Also, during this planning you should identify work where you may need an extra pair of hands to help out. It might be a case of asking a neighbour or someone competent to help for the two-person task,” said Pat.

    “If you are struggling long-term to get all the work done in the day maybe it’s time to look at getting more regular labour for the farm, even if it’s on a part-time basis.”

    Pat said another area that is often forgotten but is critically important for a farmer’s well-being is “investing in yourself”.

    He said this is important because you are the most important asset to the farm.

    Many farmers have in recent years invested significantly in the farm whether it’s in tractors, machinery, buildings or livestock, but fail to invest anything in themselves.

    “Too many farmers have threadbare boots and loose, often torn clothing with a general reluctance to buy better gear. Small investment in good clothing is not just for comfort – it could save your life,” Pat said.

    “Every farmer should have boots and wellingtons with good grips and steels toecaps and soles. Loose clothing is not suitable for a farm because you will be far more prone to getting caught in moving machinery,” he said.

    He said next year should be the year farmers look after their general health too.

    “Is there any opportunity to get involved in something outside farming? Could you do a computer course, go swimming, play cards, anything to get away from the farm for a couple of hours,” he said.

    This will help you to recharge and unwind from the stress of the farm for a few hours every week and may give you a different perspective when you return.

    Code of practice

    According to Pat, a review of the code of practice must be done in 2019.

    “Why not review your risk assessment early in 2019 before the farm gets really busy,” he suggested.

    “Maybe if there are young people working on the farm they could be involved in this review.”

    Machinery is one area that needs particular attention when carrying out this review.

    “Tractors are the biggest killer, with 64 people killed as a direct consequence of a tractor or other vehicles such as quads and teleporters in the last 10 years, so these really need your full attention,” said Pat.

    “In a lot of cases the tractor rolls from its parked position and traps the operator or passer-by,” he said.

    The whole mindset around tractors needs to change, according to Pat.

    He believes essential checks need to be carried out daily – fuel level, mirrors, brakes, lights, windows, cab floor, etc.

    By doing these checks before you take off, you can avoid delays further down the road if something goes wrong. By being organised you are less likely to be rushing which has a direct correlation with a possible accident.

    Pat also suggested that farmers should install a hands-free kit in their tractor so they do not have to hold the phone to their ear.

    He said it makes tractor operation much safer. At the end of the working day, the tractor should be reverse-parked into its parking spot, avoiding slopes.

    The idea here is when visibility is poor in the morning you will have a much clearer view driving forward rather than reversing out of the parking position.

    Clearly, if someone follows you out to tell you something it will be far safer if you are not reversing the tractor with half-misted windows.

    He also suggests if the parking break or service break is poor they must be fixed as soon as possible and wheels chocked in the short term until they are fixed properly.

    When it comes to PTOs, Pat threw out an interesting statistic: “Inspections have found that up to 30% of PTOs on farms have defective PTO guarding. With an unguarded or poorly guarded PTO you are running a significant risk of a serious entanglement or loss of life. Where there is a properly fitted complete guard in place the risk is reduced to zer0 – it is one of the only elements in farm safety where our actions can reduce a safety risk to zero,” he pointed out.

    Calving facilities also need to be looked at in January, Pat warned.

    “Every farmer calving cows need good facilities and if you are feeding or tagging a calf there needs to be a physical barrier between you and the cows,” he concluded.

    The latest figures from the National Farm Survey shows a significant jump in non-fatal injuries from dealing with livestock, with being kicked, crushed or butted being the most common source of injury. Farmers should design and lay out their calving and livestock facilities to minimise direct contact with the livestock.

    Christmas Safety Tips – Arthur Byrne, public safety Manager with ESB networks

  • Only use electrical equipment, including Christmas lights that are in good condition.
  • Switch off all electrical appliances, including Christmas lights and phone chargers, last thing at night and when leaving the house.
  • Always unwind extension cords completely to avoid overheating and don’t overload sockets with adaptors or extension blocks.
  • Electricity wires are always live; never approach.
  • If you see fallen wires, keep clear and phone ESB Networks immediately on 1850 372 999/021 238 2410.