Taking a stab at safety

April 12, 2010
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Over half a century ago in the early 1950s the flat box cutter was born. A low-cost ambidextrous cutter that used a single edge razor blade (formerly and better known as a “shaving” blade), this box cutter was the tool of choice in the grocery industry. Tap open, tap closed. Utilitarian and compact, this cutter was found in virtually every pants pocket or apron pocket.

While the box cutter increased in popularity, there was a simultaneous rise in insurance premiums due to lacerations and accidents. In the late 1970s, manufacturers began to design and develop alternatives for the flat box cutter. This was the beginning of safety knives.

Early stabs at safety
The early models were die cast metals with guards and were first introduced into the grocery markets. These new cutters were designed for right-handed and left-handed use and had a metal guide to cut only the top of the box or carton. This also helped grocers cut down on damaged goods.

Early models of safety cutters did not use a single-edge razor blade, but instead utilized a stronger, heavier gauge of steel blade with a safety point on each end. The tips of each end of the new blades were either replaced with a straight angle or a round edge to eliminate cuts or puncture wounds.

Early results with use of the safety knives proved to be dramatic and sustainable. In the early 1980s, one large grocery chain reported approximately an 85% reduction in lacerations and over $5K in the reduction of damaged goods as a result of using safety cutters.

Added innovations
With the success of the new safety cutters, manufacturers went back to the drawing board and worked to develop ergonomic handles and revolutionize the blade changing mechanisms. At the same time, early in the 1990s the utility knife market produced a quick change body style that was incorporated into the latest designs of the safety knives. The core grocery market continued to use safety knives that were right- and left-handed guarded models, and these cutters were updated to include the quick change mechanisms and ergonomic handles.

Late in the 1990s, a “springback” self-retracting, low-cost, plastic injection molded, ambidextrous safety knife was introduced to the retail market store supply and this again revolutionized the industry.

Fast forward to the turn of the century and you will find many different styles, colors and shapes of safety cutters. Models include quick change, ergonomic, ambidextrous, self-retracting, springback, hooded and guarded, plastic and metal safety cutter models with tape splitters and shrink wrap cutters. Holsters and lanyards are available for most all models. Today, there are also a number of NSF approved safety knives for use in food environments such as the deli and the food processing plants.

A growing market
While predominantly still used in the grocery industry, safety knives and safety blades are gaining recognition and use in manufacturing facilities, retail chains and industrial environments. With rising costs — the average cost of a visit to the emergency room for stitches is currently $1,500 — it is not surprising to see the safety knife market continue to expand as manufacturers work to develop safety cutters for a variety of specific manufacturing and industrial applications.

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