Lacerations, especially to the hands, are perennially one of the top workplace injuries. In fact, here's what one customer told us recently: "Hand injuries account for about 1/3 of my company's total injuries. We take every opportunity to raise Hand Safety awareness."
Not only do cuts hurt, but they can sideline employees for days, weeks—sometimes even permanently: just about every job requires a worker to have healthy hands. Cuts are also more costly than most employers realize.
The good news is that lacerations are largely preventable. Proper training and PPE are important but, cutting to heart of the problem, so is choosing tools that are as safe as possible.
We asked TJ Scimone of Slice Inc., to talk with us about cutting hazards in the workplace and different methods workplaces and workers can use to protect themselves. We're very pleased to have TJ share his experience and knowledge in the interview below.
Hands can be cut or injured in many different ways at the workplace. Knowing a little more about how the hand is structured and works can help reduce the risk of injury--please it's pretty neat stuff. Here's a quick sample from our online Hand Safety Training course that explains the anatomy of the hand a little.
And with that introduction done, let's get into the interview focusing on hand lacerations (and preventing them) with TJ Scimone.
Convergence Training: What's the scope of the problem? How many people experience hand and finger injuries in the workplace?
TJ: The short answer is: this is a huge problem because too many people are suffering hand injuries.
Here are a few quick statistics. There are over a million hand injuries sustained annually in the U.S., and many of those are lacerations. In the workplace, construction workers suffer the most hand injuries, in the hundreds of thousands per year. And the National Safety Council ranks cuts, lacerations, or punctures as one of the top three types of injuries that keep employees away from work.
Another eye-opener is that most hand injuries—I’ve seen figures as high as 70 percent—are the result of not wearing any hand protection. This drives home the point that most of these injuries are preventable as long as people take proper precautions.
Convergence Training: What are some of the consequences of occupational cutting injuries?
TJ: First, there are consequences to the worker. Cuts are painful. They can also be debilitating. Hands are very complex, so fixing the damage of a cut is very tricky business. It also may include a lengthy period of rehab.
For the employer, there are many direct and indirect costs. Consider this: OSHA estimates that a laceration will cost an a company $41,000 on average. Also consider that workplace injuries in general are associated with lost production time, lower quality control, potential OSHA fines, lower employee morale—people don’t like seeing their co-workers hurt—and a poor company reputation. There’s also the possible cost of training a temporary employee or having to hire someone new to replace the injured worker.
I can’t emphasize enough that all of this is avoidable with a strong safety culture. It always pays to invest in prevention.
Side note: For more on the value of safety in general and of a positive safety culture in particular, see this OSHA Safety Management website.
Convergence Training: What are some steps employers can take to help reduce the number and severity of cuts in the workplace?
TJ: Provide the appropriate gloves and, if necessary, eye protection, and comprehensive training on the proper way to use cutting tools. The tools should be ergonomic and in good working order. Blades should be appropriately sharp to make smooth cuts and they should be clean. All moving parts need to work smoothly.
Also, provide employees with the safest cutting tools available. Handle design plays a part here, as does blade design. Not all blades are created equal. A blade that is made to be safe to the touch will help prevent lacerations.
It’s important to briefly but regularly return to addressing safe cutting protocols in safety moments or toolbox talks. Incorporating safety moments into the regular workday flow helps keep safety front and center in everyone’s mind.
Side note: Check this article to see the value of spaced learning and refresher training, even if short bursts.
Being mindful and aware are critical to keeping people safe. It’s amazing how many injuries occur simply because people aren’t paying attention. This is particularly true in instances when you’re using potentially dangerous tools like utility knives or box cutters.
Another important step for reducing lacerations is to get workers involved in workplace safety. Reward good safety practices, and encourage staff to be proactive. On the flip side, there should also be consequences for disregarding safety protocols. A no-tolerance policy around, say, wearing gloves when you’re using a cutting tool or replacing a dull blade will save a lot of people from harm.
Convergence Training: Can you give some examples of how work processes can be re-engineered to reduce cutting injuries?
TJ: Ergonomics are really important. All movements your workers are required to do should be as natural as possible. In my world of cutting tools, that means finding box cutters and utility knives that fit well in the hand, have a secure grip, and allow the cutting motion to feel comfortable. This will cut down on fatigue. If someone’s hands and forearms are tired, they’re more likely mishandle a cutting tool or drop it.
Convergence Training: Can you give some examples of how guarding can be used to reduce cuts in the workplace?
TJ: Guarding, or reducing blade exposure, is an important way (and traditionally the only way) to mitigate the risk of lacerations. For big machines like power saws and table saws, it’s critical that guards are in good working order and always used.
In the cutting tool world, the approach has been to create knives with auto-retracting handles. If the user stops engaging the slider button that exposes the blade—say, if they drop the tool—the blade automatically retracts back into the handle. So that’s one approach.
Some cutting tools go one step further and offer a feature that requires the slider to be engaged and for the blade to be in contact with the material that the user is cutting. So, if the tool loses contact with the cutting surface, the blade retracts even if the slider is engaged. It doesn’t get much safer than that when it comes to handle design.
It should be noted here that guarding is always important, but having a safer blade gets to the heart of the problem. After all, what cuts you: the handle or the blade? A combination of good guarding and a blade engineered to minimize the risk of cuts is the ultimate safe cutting tool.
Convergence Training: How can safer cutting tools help reduce hand and finger injuries in the workplace?
TJ: To answer this, I think the first thing we need to address is: What makes a cutting tool safer? Cutting tools cut things, so they’re inherently dangerous.
Factors that are very important, then, are ergonomics and a good gripping surface—this second feature helps to reduce the possibility of the knife slipping out of the user’s hand. Also look for those retracting features.
And, again, consider the blade, since it’s the part of the knife that causes the worst injuries: punctures and lacerations. Look for blades with a special safety grind that is less prone to cutting through skin.
Convergence Training: Can you explain more fully the elements of safe cutting and safe cutting tools?
TJ: When we talk about safe cutting and safe cutting tools, it’s really about mitigating risks. So first we need to understand what those are. Risks from knives include lacerations, but also chemical reactions, damage to materials, and, as I mentioned, repetitive stress injuries—to name a few of the primary concerns.
Of course, proper training is critical, and this training needs to be done on an ongoing basis. But there are issues outside of any worker’s control, like the design of the tool they are using. If their cutting tools don’t feature a safer blade or appropriate retraction or other guarding, they are going to experience a higher risk of lacerations.
It falls to the safety manager to find the safest cutters available. Employees should also be encouraged to speak up if they see where safety can be improved.
Returning to the issue of damaging materials, it’s shocking to realize that grocery stores and retailers lose millions of dollars in damaged product because a blade cut through the packaging and into the product. So, one thing to look for is a blade that is only exposed enough to cut through the packaging and not your merchandise. Safety includes people as well as your valued materials.
Convergence: What about PPE?
TJ: PPE is always important. In the case of cutting tools, gloves are the most important PPE and, in some cases, safety glasses are also key.
Regarding gloves, there are several levels of cut resistance, so safety managers need choose the correct level for the work that their employees are asked to do. The other factor in choosing a good glove is dexterity.
A common complaint by workers is that gloves are uncomfortable and awkward, and this makes their job more difficult. If your PPE makes a job more challenging, workers will be less enthusiastic about using it.
Convergence: How does training fit in this, in the sense of awareness of cutting hazards, proper use of guarding and especially PPE, and proper use of cutting tools when required?
TJ: Training is really critical. It’s a lapse that is quoted when injury statistics are highlighted: we need to train our people better. It’s important for workers to hear on a regular basis that safety is the highest priority; safety must always come first. And they also need to hear messages about how to use cutting tools in a safe way, and what constitutes a safe cutting tool.
I always come back to the worker. They need to be given the support and agency to make their life safe on the job.
Convergence Training: Any closing thoughts?
TJ: My approach is to always look at the totality of risks and find ways to address them. My goal is to keep people as safe as possible. That’s why I do what I do. I see the horrible injuries people sustain in their workplace, and I want to help minimize that.
If readers have any questions, I encourage them to contact me.
We hope you found this article on reducing laceration injuries helpful. We learned a lot from the interview ourselves, and we'd like to thank TJ Scimone and Slice for their time and knowledge.
Feel free to download the free guide below, too.