Knife injuries often happen when the knife slips during cutting or trimming. In most cases the blade comes into contact with the worker’s other hand, causing a laceration to the hand and/or fingers. Injuries can also occur to other parts of the body, including the hand operating the knife.

The type of knife used and how it is handled, sharpened and maintained are very important to ensure worker safety and preventing injuries. The type of injuries that occur from the unsafe use of knives range from small nicks to serious disabling cuts.

Reasons for injuries

Utility knives are common tools in many workplaces. Many accidents involving utility knives occur for the following reasons:

  • Drawing the knife towards you instead of away from your body.
  • Working with a dull blade. (Dull blades require more pressure, increasing the potential for injury.)
  • Trying to cut more than the knife can handle.
  • Improperly storing the knife with the blade extended.
  • Failing to wear personal protective equipment.
  • Neglecting to inspect the tool before use.

It’s important for workers to use the proper size blades or replace defective retraction mechanisms. Some companies use self-retracting utility knives – the blade automatically retracts into the handle when not in use.

Precautions to remember

Problems also arise when some employees don’t have or can’t find a utility knife supplied by the company. As a result, they tend to use whatever is handy, such as a pocket knife or other tool with a sharp edge. This can quickly turn hazardous if the tool slips or is used incorrectly.

There are some safety precautions to keep in mind when using utility knives:

  • Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes in case a blade breaks.
  • Always use a sharp blade.
  • Wear cut-resistant gloves and sleeves to protect your hands and arms.
  • Hand a utility knife to a co-worker with the handle first.
  • Use one of the self-retracting blade knives. The technology has increased the safety of this tool tremendously over the past several years.
  • If the application allows, use one of the new knives with a shielded knife surface.
  • Consider using a rounded tip blade if the application allows.
  • Ensure the blades are properly positioned in the handle before use.
  • Keep extremities out of the cutting path.
  • Don’t apply too much pressure on the blade.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions when changing blades.
  • Don’t use utility knives to pry loose objects.
  • Dispose of dull or broken blades in a puncture-resistant container.
  • Use of disposable knives with breakaway blades is not meant for industrial use. Stay away from them.

Avoid dull knives

OSHA says using a dull knife is one of the most common mistakes. According to OSHA, using a dull knife will cause you to use greater force, which increases your chance of several kinds of injury, such as cuts, amputations, stabbing wounds into your leg, arm or body, and increasing joint and nerve pain from repetitive motions that can be a warning sign of permanent crippling injury. Using dull knives also makes work much more difficult, slow and inefficient.