The utility knife or “box cutter” is a useful tool in many workplaces and used to cut through tape on packages, plastic and wire ties, and many other materials. Knives come in many different types, shapes, and forms, and all present different hazards. Improper use and maintenance can result in not achieving desired results and possible injury. The most common hazard is the sharp blade that can cause deep, painful, and disabling lacerations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lacerations account for over 60% of all hand injuries in the workplace, and nearly 40% of those injuries involve utility knives. It is important that employees be trained in safely using, handling, carrying, cleaning, and maintaining the knives. The company’s risk assessment should include proper use and safe work practices for utility knives. During training, demonstrate proper use, including changing and proper disposal of used blades, and discuss safe work practices, first aid, and proper storage of utility knives.
• What is a “box cutter” and how is it used?
• Injuries involving utility knives
• Training, use of proper PPE, company policy, and state regulations
• Safety precautions and first aid for lacerations and blood exposure
OSHA does not have specific rules or regulations regarding the use of knives in the workplace. However, OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a workplace and work practices that are free of recognized hazards. It is important that employees are aware of the hazards as well as safe work practices specific to the company. It is also important to know your state laws with regard to the use of knives. Some states have regulations that do not permit the use of utility knives on the job site by employees under the age of 18.
Only use knives for their intended purpose. Knives are not meant to be used as a screwdriver, or to pry things open; they are designed to be used for cutting. It is best to use utility knives with retractable blades that allow the user to modify the blade length depending on the thickness of the material being cut. Knives with breakaway blades are not intended for industrial use. Before purchasing a utility knife, consider the task for which it will be used. Wear safety glasses in case a blade breaks, and wear cut resistant gloves. Inspect the knife before each use. Hold the knife firmly by the handle, and apply consistent, firm pressure while cutting. When using the knife to cut through thick materials, make several passes, cutting a little deeper into the material with each pass. Use a sharp blade since a dull blade will require more pressure and increase the risk of severe injury. Use a solid surface to cut on, never hold an object to be cut in your lap, and always use a motion cutting away from your body. Stop cutting if you become distracted, someone engages you in conversation, or you need to look up. Do not carry a knife with an exposed
blade, retract the blade when not in use, and do not hand it directly to another worker; instead, place the knife on a surface and allow your co-worker to pick it up. If you drop a knife, do not attempt to catch it; let it fall. When finished using a utility knife, clean it and store it properly. Do not use your finger or thumb to check the sharpness of the blade. When changing the blade, carefully remove the blade by the non-sharp side, and discard into a sharps container or wrap it in several layers of tape and discard in a safe place. If an accident occurs involving a utility knife, treat all cuts with proper care. Injuries from lacerations can expose other employees and those responding to the injury, to blood and, possibly, bloodborne pathogens (see Toolbox Talk on Bloodborne Pathogens 12/17/2018).
Remember, it only takes one wrong move for the utility knife to cause severe injury.
As always, stay safe out there!