Knives and Cutting What Dangers are Lurking in Your Workplace?

May 1, 2009
Did you know you could promote and support your workplace safety culture by instituting a safety cutter program?

Utility knives and box cutters are extremely common in today's workplace. They are used by warehouse personnel in shipping and receiving departments, retail/grocery store checkers and stock clerks, restaurant and fast food workers and construction and emergency rescue workers. They are used to cut open packages and cartons, cut string or strapping material, cut tape down the center of boxes, open bags, tear away shrink wrap and to cut seatbelts in cases of emergency. In short, they are being used for everything.

Cutting processes are basic to all organizations' operations, and yet we find they often are overlooked, causing employee injuries, lost production and high shrink rates. In today's economic environment, these costs simply cannot be absorbed any longer. Instead, they can be channeled into a positive profit EBITDA on a quarterly basis by selecting the right cutting tool, mandating a safety cutter platform and building and increasing your company's safety culture.


Should widespread use of the wrong cutting instruments be cause for alarm? My background and exposure to safety and risk management in the grocery industry tells me that, “Yes, we should be alarmed!” It is a simple fact that utility knives and box cutters are designed to cut, and that inherently is a hazardous action. Occupational hand injuries as well as injuries (cuts, lacerations and puncture wounds) to other body parts are rampant, and employers need to do everything in their power to promote safety and reduce these accidents. Cut injuries generally are every company's No. 2 injury category, driving up costs and injury rates.

The most common cause of accidents related to box cutters occurs when an employee uses a standard knife and is distracted or slips while cutting the top of a box and strikes his or her forearm or thigh with an exposed blade. It is clear that extreme caution must be used at all times when using a knife or box cutter. Remember to always:

  • Approach work in a balanced body position.
  • Turn the item to be cut 5 degrees to the left so you are cutting away from the body.
  • Look at the cut line — never look away or become distracted by talking with someone.
  • Place your other hand on the opposite side of the case away from the cutting line.

It is estimated that more than $32,000 worth of direct (health care, workers' compensation costs) and indirect costs (wages paid to injured workers not covered by workers' compensation, wage costs related to time lost/work stoppage, administrative time spent by supervisors following accidents, employee training, replacement costs, lost productivity related to new employee learning curves, accommodation of injured employees and replacement costs of damaged material/property) can be attributed to just one cut or laceration (

Estimated Direct Costs: $15,398 Estimated Indirect Costs: $16,937 Combined Total (Direct and Indirect Costs): $32,335


Workers have many different types of knives with a variety of features to choose from, but one thing is certain — with a safety cutter, the types of accidents mentioned and risk for injury are reduced greatly. Safety cutters are varied as well and the right tool should be chosen depending on the job or the material you are cutting. There are many new and different technologies that can help prevent cut injuries, such as: covered blades, fixed guards, non- exposed blades and spring backs, as well as tape splitters that do not use a blade at all.

A safety cutter with a permanent safety guard will protect the employee from injury because, in the box-opening position, the blade is not exposed. The guard also acts as a guide to properly position the cutter, protecting the user from injury and protecting the carton contents from damage. Many safety knives today feature a spring-back mechanism that allows the blade to instantly retract when the knife loses contact with the cutting surface. This feature dramatically reduces the risk of puncture wounds. Other features include in-handle blade storage, ergonomically designed handles and blunt-tipped safety blades. Many manufacturers, like Pacific Handy Cutter, supply right-handed, left-handed or ambidextrous models.

Overlooking the type of carton cutters that employees use has a dramatic effect on an organization's final profit performance. Many times it is not noticed because we take for granted this necessary function in all operations (opening merchandise, parts and ingredients, for example), but day in and day out employee cuts and damaged items cost companies millions of dollars.

These and other injuries can be prevented by building and increasing employee safety culture. Investing in safety cutters tells all employees that their company is serious about safety policies and programs (ROI is $3 to$1) and is a great platform on which to build their safety culture. Cutting, lifting, forklift driving and all work behaviors then become more important to all employees.

Safety in the workplace is a key concern for management across all industries, especially when employees are using knives and cutting instruments. Preventing or reducing occupational injuries and workers' compensation claims should be a priority for all organizations. When cutting open boxes or cartons, the risk for accidents and hand lacerations can be greatly reduced by introducing a safety cutter accompanied by education for proper use of the tool (American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Volume 31, Number 5, May 1997).

Training and better tools will cut down on injuries, translating into tremendous cost savings and improved productivity and efficiency.

A successful safety cutter program must start with a strong commitment from management. This especially is true when worker attitudes and behaviors must be changed, as this is a major obstacle. There is no question of the benefits of using safety knives in the workplace, but getting the workers to use them can be a challenge. The attitudes of senior managers will set an example for others to follow. After all, implementing a safety cutter program needs their visible support.

Going hand in hand with employer and worker awareness is training and education. Workers must be provided with training and instruction on the proper use of safety tools in order to reduce the incidence of workplace injuries. Workers should be made to understand the value of a complete safety cutter program.

Dave Puglisi is executive vice president, sales and marketing, for Pacific Handy Cutter Inc. Pacific Handy Cutter's Safety First System (comprised of the varied safety tools for different cutting applications/tasks, interactive DVD and video training materials, safety posters and instructional handouts) is used daily by the world's top companies to reduce cutter lacerations and injuries, reduce workers' compensation claims and boost worker productivity. For more information, call (800) 229-2233 or visit

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