Cutting Mats: Safe Use of Knives In The Workplace

Cutting Out Hand Injury

In a previous blog post about keeping knives sharp by using a cutting mat, the subject of hand knife safety was mentioned. With hand knife safety being such an important topic, we thought it deserves its own dedicated article.

Hand knife injuries typically account for between 25-50% of all lost time accidents in the plastics processing industry” – BSiF (British Safety Industry Federation)

In workplaces where knives are commonly used, the risk of hand injuries and cuts is a major concern. These injuries not only cause physical pain and discomfort but can also lead to lost productivity, and staff costs. Hand and wrist injuries rank as the third-most common occurrence in workplace accidents and can result in life-changing discomfort or disability. Whilst the Covid pandemic interrupted the collection of data, the HSE reports that lacerations/open wounds are responsible for 244,000 days of absence a year in Britain (3-year average, updated 2022), with 15,000 hand, wrist and finger injuries occurring in the year 2021/22. Whilst this figure is a reduction on previous years, it is still astoundingly high considering the industry was in lock-down mode for much of that period.

The nature of many cutting tasks and the materials being worked often dictate the use of handheld cutting knives at work. The plastic processing and composite material industries have a particular need for knife work and as such are high risk. Employers are responsible to ensure that the correct equipment, PPE and training are provided, to reduce risks to workers. In this article, we explain how businesses can significantly reduce the risk of accidental knife injury by implementing the use of cutting mats, and their role in promoting workplace safety.

Reducing The Risk Of Hand Injuries And Cuts In The Workplace

The safe use of knives in the workplace is crucial to minimize the risk of hand injuries and cuts. To mitigate the risk of knife use, employees should determine specific ways of working, appropriate tools and training procedures to avoid hazards, followed by PPE as the final layer of protection. Below are some examples of how employees can mitigate potential knife hazards;

Proper Training

Employers should provide comprehensive training sessions to employees on the correct handling and use of knives. Training should cover techniques for holding knives, proper cutting methods, safe storage practices, sharpening or replacement of blades, and correct disposal.

Specify Appropriate Tools

Workers should be issued suitable cutting tools for their, discouraging the use of makeshift tools or inappropriate knives. The knives used should be strong, sharp, and of appropriate size and blade shape. When cutting material against a worktop, a cutting mat provides better blade control, in addition to maintaining the blade edge.

Maintaining Sharp Blades

Blunt or damaged blades significantly increase the risk of injuries as they require more force to cut through materials. This reduces the amount of control and can also lead to RSI (repetitive strain injury). Regularly inspect and sharpen or replace blades to ensure they are in optimal condition or consider using an Olfa rotary cutter. This will not only make cutting easier on the hand and wrist muscles but also reduce the chance and severity of loss of control and knife slippage.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Employees should wear appropriate PPE, such as cut-resistant gloves or wristbands when working with sharp tools. Gloves provide an additional layer of protection against accidental cuts, although dexterity is important for safety too.

Knife Risk Assessment

Conducting a comprehensive knife risk assessment is essential to identify potential hazards and implement necessary safety measures. Here are some key steps to consider during the risk assessment process:

  • Identifying Hazards: Determine tasks involving knives and identify potential hazards associated with them. Consider the type of material being cut, frequency of knife use, and the skill level of those involved. Identify all who might be at risk from knife injury, not just those who are issued knives. Consult with the workers, as they may identify hazards not immediately apparent.
  • Assessing Risk Severity: Evaluate the severity of each identified hazard in terms of potential harm. Factors to consider include the likelihood of incidents, frequency of exposure, and potential consequences.
  • Implementing Control Measures: Based on the risk assessment, introduce appropriate control measures to mitigate the identified hazards. This may involve using cutting mats as a primary control measure to prevent slips, additional protection such as safety guards, providing PPE, and implementing safe knife blade storage and disposal practices. Choosing effective cutting tools, and providing training on their use and care, is crucial.
  • Regular Monitoring and Review: Continuously monitor and review the effectiveness of the implemented knife injury control measures. Adjustments may be necessary based on new findings, changes in work processes, or the introduction of new equipment or materials. Regular staff training and employee consultations can help prevent complacency and the development of new risks.

Further health and safety advice on cutting tools and risk assessments for specific industries is available from government agencies such as the UK’s HSE (Health & Safety Executive).

Hand Injuries

Hand injuries resulting from cuts can be severe and have a significant impact on the individual and the workplace. Common hand injuries associated with workplace cuts include:

Lacerations: These can range from minor cuts to deep wounds that require immediate medical attention. Blunt knives are often to blame for the loss of control of the knife. The use of a cutting mat between the bench and the blade keeps the knife sharper for longer and enables smooth, safe and controlled cutting of the material worked on. The way a blade cuts a ‘self-healing’ channel through the mat’s surface reduces the likelihood of knives slipping; and thus the frequency and severity of lacerations.

Tendons and nerve damage: Many tendons and nerves run through the hand. Use a knife that’s strong enough not to break and sharp enough to cut the material with ease. Cuts should always be made away from the hands, so having your work on a cutting mat allows you to rotate it around as needed. Accidental cuts occur most often to the non-cutting hand, arm or torso, so adjusting your work angle as you cut is important.

Puncture Wounds: Puncture wounds are deep, narrow injuries caused by pointed objects. The more force exerted on the tool, the deeper the wound is likely to be. They can be challenging to clean, are slow to heal, and may increase the risk of infection. They can also put vital organs at risk of injury. By using cutting mats, workers can create a stable surface that promotes knife sharpness, reducing the amount of force required to cut the material and therefore the risk and depth caused by puncture wounds.

Abrasions: Abrasions, or scrapes, occur when the skin is rubbed against a rough surface. Although less severe than lacerations or puncture wounds, abrasions can still be painful and may require medical attention. Using cutting mats creates a smooth and stable surface, reducing the risk of abrasions caused by slips or uneven cutting surfaces.  All models of Rhino cutting mats give a good degree of anti-slip properties, with ultra-smooth or slightly textured ones being best for different workplaces.

Contaminations and Infections: Cuts and abrasions to the hand can also lead to more serious contamination and infections. When a knife cuts through the skin, it exposes the inner tissues to potential bacteria or foreign particles. This can result in infections that require medical treatment and can cause further complications. By using cutting mats, employees can minimize the risk of contaminants entering wounds, as the mats provide a cleanable and tidy work surface to cut against.

Strain Injury: As well as cuts, hand fatigue from repetitive cutting across uneven work surfaces or using blunt knives can lead to hand and wrist RSI. Providing your workers with smooth workbench cutting mats, the correct knife and consistently sharp blades can go a long way to reducing the risk of wrist, hand and arm strain.

Benefits Of Cutting Mats In Reducing Hand Injuries And Cuts

Implementing the use of cutting mats in the workplace offers several advantages that contribute to a safer working environment:

Improved Knife Stability

Cutting mats provide a stable surface for cutting, reducing the chances of slips and accidental injuries. The mats are designed to prevent knives from accidentally sliding or shifting during use, providing workers with better control and precision.

Enhanced Knife Control

Safe cutting is all about predictability and control. Cutting mats offer a consistent and reliable surface for knife work, allowing employees to have better control over their cuts. This reduces the likelihood of the knife veering off course and accidentally cutting into the operator or co-worker.

Worktop Protection Against Sharps

Rhino cutting mats are made of durable materials, designed to both withstand and protect the sharpness of knives. They provide a protective barrier, minimizing direct contact between the blade and the work surface, thus preserving the life of both bench and blade, whilst reducing the risk of cuts and injuries that uneven, rutted surfaces and blunt blades can cause.

Surface Cleaning And Hygiene

Cutting mats are easy to clean and maintain. They can be washed with soap and water, ensuring a hygienic working environment. Regular cleaning of cutting mats removes any residue or contaminants that may accumulate, reducing the risk of infections.

Spatial Safety In Knife-work Zones

Cutting mats are great for defining the knife user’s workstation, marking out a safety gap between workers who share a zone.

Rhino Cutting Mats for Safer Work Benches

Rhino cutting mats are available in various densities and thicknesses, making them suitable for different workplace settings, from heavy industrial workbenches to precision handwork. Whether it’s a commercial cleanroom (see our antistatic mat), a craft workshop, or an industrial facility, Rhino cutting mats can be cut to size to meet your specific requirements and provide your workplace with optimal knife effectiveness and safety.

Hand injuries and cuts in the workplace can have severe consequences, affecting both individuals and businesses. Implementing the use of cutting mats is a proactive measure that significantly reduces the risk of such incidents. By promoting safe knife-handling practices, conducting thorough risk assessments, and providing employees with appropriate tools and protective equipment, businesses can create a safer working environment.

Investment in cutting mats not only protects employees from hand injuries and cuts but also enhances productivity. Prioritizing workplace safety demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of employees, fostering a positive work culture and ensuring a safe and sustainable business environment.

Please reach out to us for help choosing the ideal cutting mat surface for your needs, technical sheets and samples are available to ensure you have the safest cutting surface setup for your workplace and staff.

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