When working with a chainsaw, injury potential goes beyond just coming in contact with the saw. Many injuries and deaths also occur due to workers being struck by the object being cut, such as a large tree. It's important to be aware of where the tree is falling and to stay far enough away to avoid contact with any part of the tree.

What your employees need to know when cutting down trees

All tree felling must be supervised by a qualified tree worker. Prior to beginning any work, this person is responsible for providing a job briefing that outlines hazards specific to the job. He or she also provides the safety equipment and the procedures that will be used to ensure the work is completed safely.

Prior to making that first cut make sure your workers know the following:

  • The species of the tree or trees being cut: Weight and density of trees vary by species. Both have a big impact on how hard it will be to cut the tree, the rigging system to be used, the force needed to pull the tree to the ground, and whether it can be an anchor point.
  • The location of escape routes: Establish clear routes employees will take in case something goes wrong. Depending on where each worker is stationed, multiple routes may be necessary. Make sure each one is clear of obstacles and poses no hazard or conflict to other escape routes.
  • The location of the drop zone: The drop zone is where the tree will fall. The drop zone should be at least two times the size of the tree to be cut and must be clear of any obstacles. Only employees directly involved in the cut may be allowed within the drop zone until the qualified tree worker has determined that it is safe.
  • How to guide the tree into the drop zone: Using a chainsaw to cut the tree is just one part of the job. Your workers also must make sure the tree falls safely into the drop zone. Rope can be used to pull a tree in the desired direction after the cut. A rigging or pulley system—when used in connection with an anchor point—can also be used. The pulley system must be selected by a qualified tree worker.
  • Always work in teams: Bringing down a tree is not a one-person job. Coworkers serve as extra eyes and ears to help alert the saw operator of any danger. They also help manipulate ropes or the rigging system used to guide the tree safely to the ground.
  • Making the proper cuts: To safely cut down a tree, three precise cuts are needed to help ensure the tree falls in the intended direction.

What your employees need to do when cutting down trees

Start by verifying the height of the tree. This is a critical step in establishing the drop zone. Anyone unsure about how to verify the height of a standing tree should consult with their employer or the qualified tree worker before any cutting takes place.

When possible, reduce the footprint of the tree being cut by trimming off large limbs and branches. After this step, clear those out of the way to keep your working area, drop zone, and escape routes clear.

A reliable communications system is essential—a two-way radio with fresh batteries is recommended, but hand signals from a qualified tree worker may also be used.

Never turn your back to the tree as it falls.

What to cover at your safety meeting about cutting down trees

Start by reviewing your job briefing and make sure everyone is clear on their assignments. Confirm also that everyone knows where the drop zone and escape routes are. Other procedures to cover include:

  • Make sure everyone understands how to use the communication system, whether electronic or manual.
  • Review the weather. Never cut trees in dangerous weather conditions. Rain, wind, and lightning can all pose risk to your employees and affect the direction the tree falls.
  • Make sure tools are in the proper working condition and appropriate for the job at hand.
  • Evaluate the terrain and determine if it’s safe for your workers. Does it impact the escape routes in any way?
  • Review your emergency response plan.

Tree felling is a dangerous job. The larger and heavier the tree, the more force it has while falling to the ground.

Preparing in advance, following established procedures, and communicating with your coworkers are critical steps to ensure the tree falls to the ground without anyone being hurt.