Cutting it safe
Safety knives have a place in all industries and in most cutting applications. What is important when viewing these products as a potential safety improvement in your company is that they will aid the desire for safer cutting but not safe cutting! Training is still a vital ingredient.
Blade technology improvements have seen the cutting blade become sharper, last longer and, with the development of blade steels and new coatings, there is the benefit of lower drag values so that the blade more easily slices through the material being cut. All of this suggests a more dangerous product to be around. It is therefore the job of the blade holder (knife handle) to help protect the user and indeed packaged and boxed goods from this potentially lethal object – the cutting blade.
Unlike PPE, there is currently no internationally recognised quality standard for hand held knives. However, the German Safety Board standard, the GS/TÜV safety mark, is recognised in the aerospace and automotive industries, and has developed a series of tests for safety knives, very few knife manufacturers have taken up this option of safety certification. However Martor KG, the first manufacturer to develop a safety knife (1976 – the original Profi) is one of the few to do so.
There are guide lines that help in the selection of hand held knives that identify the product as being a safety knife.
In the design of the blade holder there should be a facility that protects the operator from the blade when things get out of control
Unless the company policy insists on using disposable cutters, the blade change option should be efficient and without any undue risk to the operative.
The knife should be so designed that the blade will not remain extended when the knife is laid down.
Robustness is an important safety element. Following professional training in the use of an appropriate knife for a particular cutting application, the knife should not malfunction.
The Martor Safety Index
There are effectively five categories of safety knives, commencing with the most safe (Safety Index 1). The descriptions are as follows:
Safety Index 1 – The definition for which is disposable concealed bladed knives. Included in this are safety scissors, and bladeless cutters such as the reel snails used in the printing and paper industry to slab paper from reels. The benefit of the concealed blade is it protects the user from cut injuries, and also when opening packaging or boxes it will protect the goods inside from cut damage.
Safety Index 2 – This safety knife type has a changeable but concealed blade.
Safety Index 3 – This relates to safety knives that benefit from a fully automatic blade retraction system. With this functionality it doesn’t matter if the thumb slider or squeeze lever is held in the blade extend position because once the blade leaves the material being cut, it will automatically and immediately retract into the handle.
Safety Index 4 – These knives benefit from a spring loaded blade retraction system. The concept of which is that once the thumb slider has extended the blade and the process of cutting has begun, the operator should remove the thumb from the slider. The blade will remain engaged with the material being cut, but as soon as the blade leaves the material, whether by design or default the spring will immediately pull the blade back into the safety of the knife handle.
Safety Index 5 – This is the minimum safety level whereby the blade is manually extended and remains extended until it is manually retracted.
At the beginning of this article it was stated that safety knives do not ensure safe cutting, but will aid safer cutting. These knives are ultimately designed to cut - they can be lethal weapons. We are trained in risk assessment to ask that fundamental question, “do we need to use a hand cutting tool?” If the answer is yes, then a series of questions unfold. One of which has to be, what training is required to minimise the risk?
It cannot be over stated that the cutting technique employed when using a safety knife is often different to when using a fixed blade knife. Occasionally in trialling a safety knife, it will be discarded by an operative because “it’s rubbish, the knife I use is perfect”, or, “my knife does the job faster”, another common comment is “I need a longer blade!” Invariably such comments are the result of one of two explanations: a reluctance to change-just because; or the trialling didn’t follow a professional training session.
In short, training is a vital element in the desire for a safer cutting environment. But what does all this mean? There are many instances where the introduction of an industrial safety knife has made huge improvements, both in terms of reduced cut injuries and in the reduction of damaged goods.
For example one importer and distributor of clothing and bedding was reporting slash damage amounting to a cost of over £300,000 per year. The problem was opening the boxes using open bladed knives . Martor was asked to find a solution to this expensive problem. The result was to replace their current knives with two options, a concealed bladed knife, the Secumax 350 which easily cuts open two ply boxes but with no exposed blade that could damage the goods inside.
The second option adopted was the Secunorm Multiset, which has two safety features, it benefits from an automatic blade retraction system, and the blade extension can be set from 5mm to 24mm insuring that the blade penetration extends only to the thickness of the packaging. Both products also promoted safer cutting by considerably reducing the risk of cut injuries to the staff.
There are instances where high risk to injury has been eliminated by co-operating with manufacturers to develop a new safety knife. Martor’s big bag cutter, the Secunorm 590 is such a development. Whether you're working on a drilling rig or large construction site, in a chemical factory or in waste disposal, flexible big bags (containing one and two tonnes of material) are being used in an increasing number of industries.
Often suspended over hoppers or the contents are simply dumped onto the floor. There have been many inventive home made options, the kitchen knife taped to a broom handle for example, or simply leaning over the hopper site and using a short fixed blade knife. None of these practices were acceptable to the safety conscious ExxonMobil who contacted Martor for a solution. With the cooperation of the German branch of ExxonMobil Martor has developed the world's first professional big bag cutter.
The new SECUNORM 590 by MARTOR is a robust big bag cutter with a one meter long steel handle and automatic blade retraction. The long handle is to enable the right cut to be made from a safe distance. The blade retraction is so that the blade can retract immediately after cutting without putting anybody at risk.
Whatever equipment your organisation adopts, an OHSAS 18001 certified health and safety management system will ensure appropriate methods for using it are understood by the relevant persons, to help reduce incident levels.