Reducing the risks from top-handled chainsaw use

Saw selection and maintenance

Not all top-handled chainsaws are the same.  Although the professional range is comparatively small; there are variations in weight, balance and handling characteristics. Select a saw that is appropriate for yourself and the tasks most often carried out. Remember to use appropriate bar, chain and sprocket combinations. These will greatly impact upon cutting efficiency, kickback potential, and overall handling characteristics.  Only use those recommended by the manufacturer.

Planning and preparation

Wherever possible, work should be assessed before hand with a view to determining:

Operational: remember, the risks from the saw are not just to the climber. Send the saw aloft using a fail safe system (normally fasten to the harness before removing from haul line) and ensure ground staff are outside of potential drop zones if the saw should fall.

Supervision for the less experienced and trainees

In addition to basic training and certification requirements, trainees and the less experienced must be adequately supervised at all times. It is prudent to have documented systems and procedures in place setting out how this is achieved. 

Aerial rescue provisions

Plan for and put in place effective emergency plans including aerial rescue. There are still too many situations where the most capable climber is aloft, potentially leaving less experienced members, to provide aerial rescue cover with little prospect of recovering their work mate in an emergency.

In summary

Whilst nationally recognised training and certification provides the basic foundations for practitioners, it does not confer experience or expertise. This can only be obtained through consolidation of skills in a well controlled and supervised environment. It may take three years before a 'novice' climber is approaching a craftsman like level.

The above points are a brief summation of what I consider to be key factors. I strongly recommend that readers also familiarise themselves with the documents below (in particular the HSE Research Report into Safe working methods with top-handled chainsaws).


The Arboricultural Association's Guide to Good Climbing practice