Working with cutting tools is an essential and regular part of many workflows. While employees may feel comfortable handling these tools, it’s important to avoid complacency and emphasize the importance of cutting tool safety.

It can be easy to overlook these precautions because many modern cutting tools are relatively safe and experienced workers can handle them confidently. However, cuts and lacerations account for 30% of workplace injuries — even if they aren’t threatening, you must still report them and they could hinder productive work. With that in mind, here is everything safety managers should know about cutting tool safety.


Understand your specific cutting hazards

Safety begins before employees even start working with cutting tools. You must understand the unique hazards you face to address them effectively, so all safety protocols should start with a review of your workplace’s specific risks.

Workers may face different hazards and recommended actions depending on their tools. Both box cutters and table saws present cutting risks, but to varying degrees and in separate contexts, requiring unique protocols for each. Similarly, metal parts present hazards like sparks and flying debris when cutting that cardboard doesn’t.

The personal protective equipment (PPE), workplace guidelines, restrictions and incident response steps you use will all vary depending on the specific risk. Consequently, workplaces must conduct a thorough and detailed audit of their cutting hazards to understand how best to improve their employees’ safety.


Select the right cutting tool

Another impactful but easily overlooked step in cutting tool safety is proper equipment selection. Just as different tools carry varying hazards, they offer unique advantages and safety features, too. Using the wrong equipment for a job could introduce unnecessary risks, so you should choose these tools carefully.

Workers should use cutters that make the job at hand easier, as more comfortable usage will help prevent risky mistakes. Lower-end jigsaws may be safer than circular saws, but they usually only run at their maximum speed of 2,500 strokes per minute, making them harder to control. Options with variable speeds are safer, as they’ll give workers more control, preventing mistakes like slipping and cutting through a surface too quickly.

Determine your needs by considering the materials you must cut, the angle employees must work at and any available safety features. You may need multiple types of tools for different materials or workflows.


Provide appropriate PPE

It’s also vital to use appropriate PPE when working with cutting tools. What specific equipment that constitutes will vary depending on the material you’re cutting and the equipment you’re using.

Workers using utility knives to open packages should have cut-resistant gloves and sleeves but don’t likely need much else. By contrast, employees using power tools to cut metal or wood need safety goggles or face shields to protect their eyes from flying debris. Remember to address non-cutting hazards, too, like providing hearing protection or respirators to those using power tools.


Like all equipment, PPE can break or degrade over time. Consequently, you should ensure all PPE remains in good condition before using it on the job. Employees should be able to get new PPE upon request if theirs breaks or wears down.


Maintain cutting equipment

OSHA holds employers responsible for equipment conditions, so reliable cutting tool safety includes regular maintenance. If a tool breaks or malfunctions while an employee is using it, it could endanger them, so this equipment must always remain in working order.

Workers should inspect their cutting equipment before and after using it to spot potential issues and report them quickly. Preventive steps like regularly replacing blades will help avoid unexpected and dangerous breakdowns, but power tools can go further with predictive maintenance. This practice uses sensors to alert you when equipment needs repair, which reduces maintenance costs and eliminates breakdowns.

For larger equipment like bandsaws, introduce lock-out/tag-out procedures. These steps will help prevent overuse and hold responsible workers accountable for maintenance checks. While it’s possible to ensure tools are in good condition without this step, having a rigid structure makes it easier to enforce.


Train employees thoroughly

As with many other aspects of workplace safety, employee error plays a considerable role in cutting tool safety. Even when it’s not the primary issue, human error contributes to almost all accidents, so thorough training is essential for preventing workplace safety incidents.

Any employees who must use cutting tools should receive training on how to use them safely before they pick any equipment up. That includes knowing when to use each type of tool, cutting away from your body, using proper PPE, how to check for maintenance issues and knowing what risks each device presents.

This education should go beyond onboarding, too. Require workers to pass regular re-certification for using cutting tools to help them keep these best practices in mind and avoid complacency. Posting clear signage about proper procedures for working with cutting tools can also help with this ongoing training.


Establish organizational safeguards

Similarly, you can minimize cutting tool hazards through how you structure and manage your workforce. One of the most significant changes is to ensure only some employees can use dangerous cutting tools. Restricting the usage of this equipment makes it easier to enforce best practices and ensure only qualified, well-trained individuals use the riskiest tools.

Young workers tend to have higher injury rates, often from a lack of experience, so you can improve safety by restricting cutting tools to older, more experienced employees. Similarly, create policies that specify how workers may lose their qualification for using cutting tools after a severe safety incident or repeated accidents.

These policies and procedures should be specific, in writing and well-communicated. That way, you can enforce cutting tool safety more effectively and fairly. If you don’t have a particular rule to point to, employees may feel you’re implementing measures unevenly or may not engage in best practices because they don’t have a clear goal.


Stay safe when working with cutting tools

Remember to review these steps and reevaluate your safety posture regularly to ensure you stay safe. Workplace safety is never a one-time process but rather an ongoing journey. Cutting tools presents many risks, but all of these hazards are manageable.