Knife Safety… Let’s Cut to the Point

knife safety

It’s vital that staff members working within kitchens at food businesses are skilled and adequately trained in knife safety. Chefs and any assisting staff should be regularly refreshed on how to handle, store and clean knives safely.

Rob Easton, Head of Environmental Health at Shield Safety shares an insight into the risks and offers advice…

Unless controlled adequately, using a knife is a high-risk activity in kitchens. This was seen first-hand (or first-finger), a few years ago on Saturday Kitchen, with chef Donal Skehan slicing open his finger during what he aptly described as ‘live television with very sharp knives’. Similar dangers have also become apparent through the introduction of the medical term ‘avocado hand’, termed as such after a top British surgeon, Dr Eccles, revealed that he treats up to four people a week for deep lacerations inflicted while attempting to cut an avocado. In the workplace, the Health and Safety Executive statistics show that 69% of knife accidents result in the employee being off work for at least three days. That is a huge disruption to a business, with productivity reduced, shifts having to be covered and of course the impact and distress to the injured employee.

Similarly, to Donal’s case, most knife incidents involve cuts to the hand, with 38% of incidents reported to the HSE being to the hand or fingers. The risk of knife injury is high in many industries, but particularly in catering and kitchen operations, including of course team cutting fruit in the bar or even trimming the wax off candles.

At Shield Safety, our Safety Advice Line team receives on average 40 cases a month relating to knife accidents.

As stated by the HSE, an employer ‘must ensure that your employees are kept safe from harm so far as is reasonably practicable.’ To do this, you must assess the risk of your employees being cut by knives and take reasonable precautions.

All employees must be trained in the areas that impact their role, such as food safety or knife safety for chefs. It is recommended that a record of this training is maintained, ideally with a knowledge test or an observation of the task being completed.

Have you got adequate control measures in place in your business?

Identify Any Hazards

Hazards of using knives may include:

• Cuts/abrasions

• Amputation of digits

• Accidental stabbing

Decide Who Could be Harmed and How

The HSE highlight that accidents involving knives are common in the catering industry. They usually involve cuts to the non-knife hand and fingers but, can lead to injuries on the upper arm and torso.

Example groups at risk include:

• Kitchen staff

• Bar employees

Evaluate the Risks and Consider Controls

Practices that may result in the hazards include the use, cleaning and/or carrying of knives or sharpening the blade.

Control measures for knife use can include:

·         When not in use, knives should be placed at the side of the chopping board, in the block or on the magnetic storage system (if used). They should be placed flat and the blade must not be exposed upwards or outwards

·         When carrying a knife across a busy area, it must always be held down and never extended outwards away from the body

·         Never allow knives to project over the edge of a work surface or leave them where they may be covered by other objects

·         Select the correct knife for the correct job and do not use blunt knives. Consider the use of scissors or specialist cutting blades for opening bags and boxes.

·         Sharpen knives frequently to ensure they are not blunt

·         Always hold the handle firmly, never allowing any part of the hand to touch the blade

·         Keep handles of knives clean and dry, especially keeping the handle free from grease

·         Never leave knives in a sink of water

·         Do not leave sharp knives e.g. bread knives in guest areas where children may be able to pick them up

·         Consider the location of knife use and whether the user may be knocked by other people or doors etc

·         Cut fruit or vegetables in half to create a flat base for further chopping and slicing, do not attempt to cut items that may unexpectedly move unless they are secured with your other hand or another implement (such as a fork)

·         Consider if the task can be done differently, for example, fruit cutting for the bar completed by the kitchen team who are more experienced in knife use or purchasing products that are already prepped and do not require cutting.

knife safety

Next Steps

Your next steps will be to record the findings and implement them, check that reasonably practicable control measures are in place and review your risk assessment every year (or earlier, such as when an accident occurs or procedures change).

The high number of cases that we experience each month illustrates that accidents can still happen, however, an adequate risk assessment is a good starting point to protect your employees and in turn your business.

It is vitally important that staff are suitably trained in knife safety, and that it is made clear to staff and customers that safety is a top priority.

For further information and help contact Shield Safety: