The utility knife is essentially the Jack-of-all-trades as far as hand-cutting tools go. It is small and portable, good for slicing through a wide range of materials, and when used properly, a utility knife can make clean cuts more safely and easily than a traditional knife.
But does a safe utility knife actually exist? The short answer is yes, safer utility knives are available. The long answer is more complicated: Not all knives that claim to be safe truly are, and ultimately a knife is only as safe as the person using it.
What is a Utility Knife?
Utility knives are tough, general-purpose tools, usually suited for heavy-duty and repetitive use. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, handle designs, and blade lengths. Some are better suited to home and office uses, and others are designed for industrial applications.
At home, you might use a utility knife for arts and crafts, home repair projects, opening boxes and packaging, cutting tape, weather stripping, cable and other materials, and many other things.
At work, utility knives are perfect for slicing through tape or pallet wrap, cutting raw materials, breaking down packaging, trimming edges, and more.
Now that you’re convinced about the versatility and usefulness of a utility knife, let’s talk about the potential dangers utility knives can pose, and how to use them safely.
Not All Utility Knives are Created Equal
Most utility knives are tough and have sharp blades for cutting. But some utility knives are safer by design, from smart-retracting technology and innovative blades.
As you might expect, if you choose a utility knife that offers safety features like unique safety edges, the chances of using the knife without incident or injury are exponentially higher. The opposite is also true.
How You Can Potentially Get Hurt
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, between 1990 and 2008, emergency rooms treated over 8.2 million knife injuries, most commonly cuts and lacerations to fingers, thumbs and hands. Of those, a majority 47 percent were associated with pocket and utility knives.
As a result, the study’s authors concluded that “Manufacturers should develop safer knife designs that incorporate features, such as improved opening and closing mechanisms… to prevent these injuries.”
Cuts and lacerations to hands and fingers are known to be one of the most prevalent workplace injuries, but these types of injuries from utility knives are also largely preventable, and it doesn’t take much.
How to Use a Utility Knife Safely and Avoid Injury
Choose the Right Type of Knife
The first step is to select the right utility knife for your project or application. If you’re cutting a thicker material like foam or fiberglass insulation, you’ll want an industrial knife with extra-long blades. On the other hand, if you’re just opening lots of packages, a box cutter will do the trick.
One important thing not to overlook: Be sure the handle and blade type are appropriate for the task at hand.
Choose a Safer Knife
If one is available that suits your needs, why wouldn’t you opt for a utility knife and blade that offers added safety features?
Things to Look for:
- Blade material and sharpness – stainless steel blades are often super sharp right out of the package, but they also dull more quickly than other types of blades, like ceramic. A blade that’s too dull can be just as dangerous as one that’s too sharp.
- Retraction features – A smart-retracting utility knife uses advanced safety technology that pulls the blade back into its housing the instant it loses contact with the material being cut, even if you’re still holding the slider in place. Auto-retract, on the other hand, puts the blade away automatically when you release the slider. In both cases, the blade automatically retracts, so you never accidentally leave the blade exposed, even if the tool slips out of your hand.
- Quality materials – It might be worth spending a little more for a utility knife that’s designed to be more durable and effective. Handles and blades that last longer may actually have a lower cost in the long run.
- Fewer blade changes – Speaking of longer-lasting blades, consider also how much lower the risk of injury during blade changes will be if your blade lasts longer and you have to change it less often.
Follow Manufacturer Recommendations for Use and Storage
Remember when we said a knife is only as safe as its user? Here’s where that comes into play. Always read the directions and learn how to use the knife correctly—the right way is the only safe way. Store the tool according to the manufacturer’s recommendations: with the blade retracted, covered, etc. And never throw an exposed blade in your bag or drawer, or dispose of one in the regular trash.