We all use knives daily and, just like other everyday activities, it is easy to forget that using these tools can quickly cause serious injuries. Whether we are using knives only at home or on the job, the same common-sense rules apply.

Select the correct knife
Knives come in many different shapes and forms, each one designed for a specific purpose or job. Selecting the proper knife for the job helps ensure that the job can be completed correctly and safely.

When selecting a knife, consider the following:

Knife blade— What is the appropriate knife blade for the job required?
  • Are you cutting fish, shellfish, beef, wood, cardboard, bread, etc.?
  • Should the blade be firm or flexible?
  • Should the blade be retractable?
Retractable blades are frequently used in workshops and shipping departments because they can be safely left on a workbench when the blade is retracted.

Knife edge— What type of edge is best for your purpose?
  • Fine-edged blades produce a smooth, clean cut.
  • Serrated blades are good for cutting food products with a skin or crust and a soft interior.
  • Serrated blades are also used for cutting cardboard cartons and similar packing materials.
Learn how to sharpen your knife properly or know when to take it to an expert for sharpening.

Handle size— Is the handle large enough to provide a secure grip? This prevents the hand from slipping forward over the blade and reduces the force required to hold the knife.

Handle design— Is the handle designed to reduce excessive wrist bending? The tool should be designed to do the job without undue pressure.

Comfort— Does the knife feel comfortable? If not, musculoskeletal injuries may develop if the knife is used frequently.

Use knives safely
The basics of safely using a knife include: making sure the area around you is clear, creating a knife safety circle; grasping the knife handle with your whole hand; cutting away from your body.

Knife safety circle— To establish a knife safety circle:
  • Pretend you have a knife in your hand.
  • Extend your arm with the pretend knife straight in front of you.
  • Rotate your body to either side while continuing to extend the arm with the pretend knife.
  • Also check your overhead clearance, as this is also part of your safety circle.
No person or thing should be in the imaginary circle you have created.

Proper grip— Hold the knife firmly by the handle. Wrap your fingers completely around the handle so you have a firm grip. Never press on the back edge of the blade when cutting.

If the knife slips out of your hand do not attempt to catch it! Get out of the way and let it fall.

Cutting direction— Always cut in a motion away from your body and away from other people. This way, if the knife slips, it will not cut your body or the body of a person standing near you.

Keep your other hand, fingers and thumbs out of the way of the cutting line. If you have to grip the object you are cutting, then cut away from your hand.

Stay focused on the cutting job. Do not allow your mind to wander and don’t talk with others while using a knife. When interrupted, stop cutting and place the knife down on a secure surface. Do not try to cut while distracted.

Handling knives
Pass an open knife safely. The person holding the knife should hold it by the blade, with the cutting edge away from the hand, and pass the handle to the other person. In this way the handler has control of the edge of the knife and the person receiving the knife is reaching for the handle rather than a sharp blade.

Instead of passing the knife directly to a person, consider placing the knife onto a clean surface and allowing the other person to pick it up.

When possible, carry a knife in the closed position or safely protected in a sheath or knife pouch. However, there may be occasions when you need to carry an unprotected knife. If so, carry one knife at a time, with the blade pointed down and close to your side.

Maintenance and care
Knives are valuable tools, so learn how to take care of them.
  • Never put knives in the sink full of soapy water. What you can’t see can hurt you.
  • Do not store knives with the cutting edge of the blade exposed.
  • Knives should never be left in a position that may cause harm to someone, and they should never be left loose in a drawer or locker.
  • Do not leave a knife near the edge of a table or counter or sticking over the edge of a counter.
  • Never use your knife on things that will dull or break it.
  • Store knives carefully in a manner that will protect the blade.
  • Keep knives clean, dry and sharp. A sharp knife requires less pressure and you are less likely to cut yourself.

Submitted by Judith A. Ruddy, managing editor, safety, Business & Legal Reports Inc. Judy can be reached at (860) 510-0100 or jruddy@blr.com. This article was adapted from material previously published by BLR. Visit http://safety.blr.com.