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Safety Knives Not So Safe

By AICC Staff

September 12, 2017

width=300I want to focus on a common item you see in most packaging plants here in the U.S. It is so common that we no longer think of it or really observe it—the common safety knife. In most packaging plants, be it corrugated, folding carton, or flexo, the box knife is a common sight, usually seen on the hip of an operator or on the side of a machine.

The operator does not go many places without a safety knife. In fact, in many facilities, a safety knife is issued when an employee completes the necessary onboarding process from HR.

Many aspects of work require a knife. You see straps being cut by either the assistant or the forklift driver. Operators cut board that is damaged on the bottom of the load. Other examples include cutting dunnage, cutting the strap of a malfunctioned bundler, and cutting the retaining straps of a coil for the bundler. These and other numerous aspects of work depend on the operator and a safety knife.

In order to improve safety, some plants have moved to a “hook-style” knife with a fixed, shrouded blade. No doubt it’s a step in the right direction, and while it can be used for many applications, it cannot be used for all. Despite incremental safety improvements, knives are plentiful in the world of packaging. You only have to walk past a Fastenal tool dispenser to see how readily they are issued.

Additionally, you have the issue with used blades. How many facilities wrap used blades in tape and drop them in the waste can? How many used blade stations in the facility have to be replaced when full?

Recently, I was lineside at a flexo folder-gluer (FFG) observing the change of a 30-gallon circular glue drum. Once it was wrestled off the pallet, out came the knife to haphazardly cut the lid. The operator placed the plastic piece he cut from the lid onto a transformer, wet glue dripping down the transformer. Looking at the dried glue on the floor and side of the transformer, it had been some time since this had been cleaned. The glue line was inserted into the drum, and off the operators went to bleed the line of air and get the FFG going again.

This happened every four days, with the possibility of a safety incident with the knife or a foot injury. Additionally, you have sort waste due to air being in the glue line and time loss bleeding the air.

The observations got me thinking that it’s not about issuing a safety knife, but what could be done to remove the need for knives? This is not the first time I have had this thought. Some time ago in Canada, the plant was on the warpath for knives and blades because an old one had gotten into the product and into the customer plant, hence the urgent safety activity. The product that had the blade was returned and sorted for any otherand then redelivered.

Interestingly, in Europe it has been a common procedure for a number of years for some items, such as food products, that if any foreign bodies are found on the delivering trailer floor, the product is incinerated, not sorted. You see, the client cannot take the liability of a recall. In the eyes of the consumer, the client, not the vendor, is hurt from the poor publicity.

So, we should not be focused on moving from a retractable-blade safety knife to a hook-style safety knife; we should be focusing on removing the need for a safety knife.

Changing out the glue drum, you can use a tool designed to open the drum correctly. Bundle-strap manufacturers could change their restraining straps to a tear adhesive that the operator could pull to open. For the times when you could not remove the need for a knife, exchange the knife for a pair of shears. You could cut the sheet to measure caliper with a rotary cutter commonly used in design departments. You would save cost on disposal systems for the used blades—an ongoing cost for many.

Safety knifes are a small point within the facility that will become a large problem if a blade makes it to your customer.

PortraitLes Pickering is co-founder of Quadrant 5 Consulting, based in San Francisco. He can be reached at 415-988-0000 or Follow Les and Quadrant 5 on Twitter @Q5cLP.