Special Topics in Safety Management

The Cutting Edge of Utility Knife Training

The humble utility knife – a common and useful tool, but hardly much of a safety hazard, right? Not so, says our Safety Training Tips editor, who provides this important advice .

Utility knives are handy implements for a variety of tasks. But because they have to be extremely sharp to do their job, utility knives are also extremely dangerous if not handled and stored properly. Share this important utility knife safety information with all of your employees who use box cutters and other blades on the job.

Choose the right blade for the job. Utility knives come in many different shapes and forms, each designed for a specific purpose. Selecting the correct blade for the job is essential to ensure that the job can be completed correctly and safely. When selecting a utility knife, make sure employees consider the following safety questions:

  • What’s the appropriate blade for the job? That depends on what employees are cutting—cardboard, plastic, wood, etc.

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  • What type of edge is best for the purpose? Fine-edged blades produce a smooth, clean cut. Serrated blades are better for cutting cardboard cartons and similar packing materials.
  • Is the handle large enough to provide a secure grip? This prevents the hand from slipping forwards over the blade and reduces the force required to hold the knife, which helps prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
  • Is the handle designed to reduce excessive wrist bending? The knife should be designed to do the job without undue pressure (which also helps prevent MSDs).

Pay attention while cutting, and store knives safely! To prevent accidents, emphasize these safe work practices:

  • Always cut in a motion away from the body, and away from other people. This way, if the knife slips, it won’t cut the worker or a person standing next to the worker.
  • Keep the other hand, fingers, and thumbs out of the way when cutting. If employees have to grip the object they are cutting, remind them to cut away from the hand.

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  • Stay focused on the cutting job. It only takes a second of inattention with a sharp blade to produce a serious cut. Letting the mind wander or talking with others while using a knife greatly increases the risk of an accident and injury. Tell employees that if they are interrupted while working with a utility knife, they should stop cutting, retract the blade, and place the knife down on a secure surface before dealing with the interruption. They should never continue cutting while distracted!
  • Store utility knives safely. Train employees to retract the blade or sheath an open blade before storing. Tell them never, ever, to leave a knife with the blade exposed on the floor, on a pallet, on a work surface, or in a drawer or cabinet. 


Why It Matters…

  • As many as one-third of all manual tool injuries have been attributed to utility knives like box cutters.   
  • Because blades need to be sharp to work effectively, they can also deliver dangerous cuts.
  • It only takes a moment of inattention for a blade to slip and an employee to be injured.
  • Co-workers can be injured, too, if a blade worker leaves a knife lying around with an open blade.


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