Knife safety at work: what are the guidelines?


Knife safety at work: what are the guidelines?

Gaby Grammeno explains how to use knives and cutters safely in your workplace.


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How do we ensure that knives and cutters are used safely in our workplace?

This question was recently sent to our Ask an Expert service.

Q Do you have any documents or guidelines relating to training for safe knife use/handling in the warehouse/workplace?

A Injuries from knives are common in many types of workplaces and warehouses.

Available guidance on preventing knife injuries focuses on using the appropriate cutter for the job, using knives or cutters with handles that are comfortable to use, ensuring blades are kept sharp, use of protective gloves, and providing on-the-job instruction in safe cutting techniques.

The best cutter for the job

New tools and technologies include many options that can help prevent injuries, for example:

  • safety cutters with permanent guards (in the box-opening position, the blade is not exposed)
  • spring-back mechanisms that make the blade retract instantly if the knife loses contact with the cutting surface
  • knives where the dull section of the blade can be snapped off with pliers or similar, to expose a new cutting edge
  • bull-nosed knives rather than pointed-end knives where practicable, and
  • tape splitters that do not use a blade.

Whatever types of knives or cutters are used, it is important that the grip is comfortable to use (ie it has an ergonomically-designed handle). Waterproof handles that can be sterilised may also help to prevent infection, should cuts occur.

Safe systems for knife storage and disposal (such as wall-mounted magnetic strips, and sharps containers) can also help prevent lacerations.

Keeping knives sharp

Guidelines on the safe use of knives highlight the importance of keeping blades sharp, as this makes it easier to cut through whatever is to be cut, enabling workers to use less effort and maintain more comfortable postures. Workers should be trained in optimal techniques for sharpening knives (and knife-sharpeners should be safe to use), or knife-sharpening should be outsourced.

Protective gloves

Cut-resistant gloves with chain mesh may help to prevent injuries in some types of tasks.

Instruction in the safe use of knives

Guidance on worker training recommends covering topics including:

  • always cutting away from any body part
  • never trying to catch a falling knife
  • never tossing a knife to anyone
  • always holding it by the handle if possible, never by the sharp side of the blade
  • carrying knives pointing downwards
  • cutting on a stable surface
  • never rushing
  • always looking at the blade and its path while cutting, never at a workmate or anything else
  • complying with safe storage and disposal procedures, and
  • sharpening and maintaining blades.

Available guidelines and resources

A Leader’s Guide video on Knife Safety in the Workplace provides advice on sharpening knife blades, changing and disposing of utility knife blades, hazards of dull blades, keeping body parts and co-workers away from blade paths, cut-resistant gloves, the severity of nerve and tendon lacerations and response to knife injuries. The guide also includes a knife safety quiz.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland provides guidelines for knife safety, and you'll find more advice here and on this site.

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