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Easy Steps to Cutting Out Utility Knife Incidents in the Workplace

Young woman artisan cutting leather with a utility knife

Utility knives can be invaluable tools in the workplace, and they’re used for everything from opening boxes to scraping hides to reshaping timber and more. They are a commonplace item around the worksite and this makes it easy to forget the dangers they pose.

Knives, in fact, cause more disabling injuries than any other hand tool, and pocket and utility knives have been found to be the worst offenders, accounting for almost 50% of knife-related injuries.

The good news is that these frequent and often serious outcomes are not inevitable, and there are several steps that employees, supervisors and safety professionals can take. By understanding the causes and putting in place preventative measures, you can reduce the number and severity of knife trauma in the workplace and at home.

Cause #1: Overusing utility knives

One of the best and easiest ways to reduce risk is to eliminate the use of utility knives where possible. The chances of an injury are greatly increased when these knives are used for tasks they were not designed for.

Here are a couple of strategies to offset the overuse of utility knives:

  • Reduce knife use. Take a look at the processes and tasks where workers use utility knives and assess each one to see if the knife is essential or if there is an alternate means to do the job.
  • Staff training. Train your staff on the appropriate tasks to use utility knives and specifically instruct them to not use utility knives outside of these tasks. Staff need to be made aware that the informal use of utility knives as scrapers, screwdrivers, can openers, and pry bars is a leading cause of injury. It’s also important that workers have the proper tools to complete all these jobs.
  • Be gentle. Utility knives have sharp, thin and breakable blades. Educate staff to re-assess what they’re doing if they find themselves straining or are unable to complete a task with regular force. In these cases, employees should be made to feel empowered to seek assistance or find a more appropriate tool.
Cause #2: Messy workspaces and materials

A cluttered, untidy job site or toolbox is a recipe for disaster. Many incidents can be avoided by simply taking the time to clean up wet, dark or untidy workspaces, and by avoiding the use of dull or rusted tools.

Be sure to train workers on these simple steps to improve housekeeping from a safety standpoint:

  • Inspect your tools. Before using a utility knife, take a look at it and make sure there are no issues, like a dull or damaged blade, broken handle or guard.
  • Keep work stations in good order. Good housekeeping practices should be kept to ensure that workstations are clean, dry, well lit and cleared of any debris.
  • Have replacements on hand. Make sure staff know where to find replacement blades when needed and always use approved replacement blades. 
  • Know when to get a new one. Staff should be educated to replace their knives entirely if the handle, lock, guard or other non-replaceable components are damaged or compromised.
Cause #3: Lack of PPE

The sharpness and fragility of utility knives creates risk for cuts, punctures and shards in numerous areas of the body but especially, the hands and eyes. An obvious but often overlooked way to prevent injury is to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for utility knives such as gloves and safety glasses.

Here are some tips to make sure your team has the best PPE for safe utility knife use:

  • Use cut-resistant or mesh gloves, which provide protection while still allowing the dexterity you need to use utility knives.
  • Make sure there are safety glasses available to protect eyes in case of blade shattering.
  • Ensure that you take the proper steps to deal with the biggest factors that influence PPE compliance, like comfort, safety culture and state of mind.
Cause #4: Human error

Even with access to PPE, well-maintained tools and workspaces, and training on the proper use of utility knives, unexpected events can still happen. Human factors such as anger, fatigue, being rushed or becoming complacent can lead to errors, memory slips, and compromised decisions. However, these unintended missteps don’t have to lead to a wound.

Proper training can greatly reduce these risks too. Try the following:

  • Invest in human factors training for supervisors and frontline employees to teach them how to recognize these factors in themselves and each other.
  • Ensure supervisors are trained in communication strategies (one-on-one and in group settings) to better convey safety messaging.
  • Schedule toolbox talks about human factors and ground these in personal stories.
  • Ensure workloads are managed effectively and production issues are avoided to cut down on potential causes of rushing and other factors.
  • Seek feedback from people on the knife’s effectiveness for their specific tasks and any barriers to following procedures and wearing appropriate PPE.

In workplaces where knife injuries are prevalent, taking these four steps can help cut down on the number of incidents involving utility blades. The steps you teach employees easily transfer to their home life where utility knives are also prevalent. And a reduction in injuries can also lead to reduced insurance costs, fewer missed man-hours, and a more positive company culture. The benefits are clear, and so are the actions that you can take: limiting utility knife use to essential tasks only, proper housekeeping, sufficient PPE and, perhaps most importantly, training on human factors.


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