Employee seriously injured while operating a circular saw, resulting in death

WorkSafe is issuing a reminder about the risks associated with using hand held power tools, following a recent fatality.



An incident occurred recently where an employee sustained a serious laceration to their upper leg, while operating a hand held circular saw, severing their femoral artery. The worker was airlifted to hospital however he passed away the next day.

Safety issues

A common cause of incidents involving hand held circular saws is when the saw kicks-back and the blade comes into contact with the operator.

Kicking-back is an industry term used to describe when the blade of a circular saw becomes jammed by the material being cut, causing the saw to retract backwards quickly.

The risk of kick-back can increase when circular saw guards become clogged with dust or debris, preventing them from operating effectively.

If there is an incident, the severity of an injury can be impacted depending on:

  • if the hand held power tool is used in a restricted space
  • how the operator holds the tool, where they stand and how the materials are secured

Recommended ways to control risks

When work involves hand held power tools, employers and self-employed persons must:

  • undertake a risk assessment of all tasks by identifying hazards, assessing risks, and identifying suitable controls to eliminate or reduce risk
  • ensure all hand held tools are maintained in accordance with manufactures instructions, and are not modified

When work involves hand held power tools, employers must:

  • ensure employees are inducted on how to safely use power tools and that instruction, training and supervision is provided
  • ensure safe operating procedures for hand held power tools are developed and implemented and all workers are aware of these

Minimising the risks of kickbacks

To reduce the risk of kick-back occurring the operator should ensure that:

  • the correct circular saw cutting blade for the material being cut is selected
  • the circular saw cutting blade is sharp, clean and undamaged
  • the blade guard is in place and functioning as required by the manufacturer
  • the item to be cut is securely clamped, and on a stable mounting device such as a bench or sawhorse
  • all nails and screws are removed from the material being cut
  • the operator has stable footing and that the cutting operation is done in a safe manner
  • saw cutting depth is set as shallow as possible to suit material being cut

When using the saw, the operator should:

  • stand to the side, to avoid the saw if it kicks back
  • use two hands to operate the saw – one hand on the trigger switch and the other on the handle
  • do not remove hands from position until the saw blade has stopped rotating
  • allow the saw to reach full power before starting to cut, and allow it to cut steadily
  • do not twist the saw, change the direction or alignment of the saw blade

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors.

Employers must provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers must provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Employers must also ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct.

Self-employed persons must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the self-employed person.

For more information about duties that apply to plant, see the Plant compliance code.