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 www.frstraining.com). 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.