Hand knives

Hand knives cause accidents in all industries.  In textiles, knives are often used for removing laps and cutting waste from packages and also in packing, warehousing, sewing and other jobs.

Hand knife injuries usually happen when the knife slips during cutting or trimming.  In most cases, the blade cuts the worker's other hand and/or fingers.  Injuries also occur to other parts of the body, including the knife hand itself.

To make sure you are doing as much as you can to keep your workers safe, take a look at Safeguarding of Spinning and Allied Machinery, paragraphs 51 - 58 (ISBN 01188 3987 X).

What can I do to prevent knife accidents?

Step 1: Eliminate

Eliminate use of hand knives by:

  • redesigning the tool or process to eliminate or reduce trimming;
  • introducing different methods, eg automated cutting or using a safer cutting tool like a ceramic knife, deburring tool or scissors for removing laps etc.

If it isn't possible to eliminate the use of hand knives completely, work through Steps 2-7.  Some of these steps will still be relevant even when you have introduced a safer cutting tool.  User trials are not a substitute for assessing suitability for safe use. You should identify a suitable range and the workforce can select from this.

Step 2: Specify the right knife

Consider the range of knives available, conduct trials and invite users' views. Having done all this, specify the knife/knives to be used for each task and withdraw any others, including employees' own knives brought in from outside. If possible, specify knives with:

  • retractable blades;
  • round-ended blades where a sharp point is not needed for the work (eg on softer materials) to remove the potential for stabbing injuries;
  • handles that allow a firm and comfortable grip;
  • left-and right-handed types, as required.

It is perfectly acceptable to have different hand knives available for workers, provided that they are all deemed safe for the work and have been assessed as such following user trials. Users are far more likely to accept a change in cutting tool if they are allowed some choice for each job.

Step 3: Spare knives and blades available

It is essential that spare knives and blades are always readily available, if workers are to be able to use the correct tool for the job. You should have proper management arrangements for stock control and access. You also need to specify if knives are on personal issue or to be shared.

Step 4: Safe storage

Prevent knives being left lying loose on work surfaces or workers carrying them from one place of work to another. Such poor practices have led to injuries to both the knife user and others, including people walking into each other with exposed blades. You should:

  • provide suitable storage, eg racks, slots, boxes etc near to where people work;
  • allocate suitable belts or sheaths to employees who need to move around carrying knives;
  • strictly enforce rules prohibiting the carrying knives in pockets or in people's hands when going from one place of work to another;
  • provide disposal points for used blades, eg sharps containers.

Step 5: Specify the right PPE

You need to provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) The equipment should be specified according to the task and to the type and site of injury possible, eg:

Part of the body Type of PPE Typical materials Standard
Hand Glove Fabrics
BS EN 388:2003
BS EN 1082-2:2000
Hand/arm Gloves
Arm guards
BS EN 1082-1:1997
BS EN 1082-2:2000
Torso Apron
Plate link
BS EN ISO 13998:2003

Your supplier should be able to advise you on these.  You must also check that PPE is CE-marked.

As with selecting knives, conduct trials and invite users' views on the PPE.  It is acceptable to have different PPE available for the workforce, provided it has been assessed as safe for the work.  Users are far more likely to use PPE properly if they have helped to select it.

Once provided, supervise the use of knives properly. Never allow exemptions for those jobs that take 'just a few minutes'.

All PPE comes in a variety of sizes, so provide the range of sizes needed by the workforce at the outset, with spares available as replacements.  Take care in selecting the right size for each individual, particularly with gloves, as people are less likely to be familiar with the sizes available.

Provide protective footwear with adequate resistance to slipping and protection against penetration from a dropped knife.  Slipping while holding a knife could result in a serious injury and a dropped knife could easily penetrate sandals or soft-topped shoes.

Step 6: Working environment

Put good housekeeping in place:

  • floor surfaces should be even and provide sufficient slip resistance;
  • provide containers for waste materials;
  • keep floors and work surfaces free of debris and production waste;
  • clear up spillages straightaway.

Everyone using a knife should have enough space to move freely and allow them to operate in a safe manner without endangering themselves or others.

Set work surfaces at a comfortable height for the individual to work at.

Work areas should have adequate lighting.

Step 7: Training

People need to be given adequate training in safe working practices, so they are not a danger to themselves or others. Training should cover the following:

  • general use, care and maintenance of hand knives, including cutting away from the body, the dangers of blunt knives and typical accidents;
  • correct tool and protective equipment for each task to be performed;
  • correct way of working at any particular job and any safe operating procedures that need to be followed, eg frequency of blade changes, criteria for rejects etc;
  • in-house company rules on storage, carrying knives etc.

Introduce newly trained staff gradually to high-speed production operations and supervise them until they are skilled enough to work safely at full production rates.

First aid

A serious stabbing injury can result in heavy external and internal bleeding, particularly if a main artery is punctured.  Prompt first aid could save a life – there should be at least one person trained to deal with stabbing injuries on site to provide first aid.

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Updated 2021-05-12