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Benefits of Safety Tools in the Workplace
CLUE: It’s a small piece of equipment—but it can save your business a lot of money.
Give up? It’s not your lawyer, and it’s not a calculator. It’s a safety knife. Though nearly any business has to open a large volume of mail and packages during daily operations, too many businesses allow employees to use bare razors, or food knives, to open boxes. This is a small mistake that leads to big losses—both in accidental destruction of stock and in injury claims. In any given year, according to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nearly five million workers will experience injury or illness on the job, and more than half these injuries will be severe enough to send the worker home. Of these injuries, a third of them will be in the form of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Such disorders are painful for workers and costly for employers, both in lost productivity and in workers’ compensation claims. For workers who handle heavy packages on a regular basis, these injuries are both especially inconvenient and especially hard to avoid.
According to the June 2005 issue of industry journal Occupational Health, the Food Marketing Institute has estimated that the grocery industry alone sustains nearly $20 billion per year in damaged merchandise—thirty percent of which was caused by careless box cutting. Estimates of injuries due to inappropriate knife use aren’t available—many workers don’t report minor injuries, industry experts say—but businesses that have instituted safety-knife programs have reported huge yearly savings. According to the same Occupational Health article, a 300-store retail chain can save $5-10 million per year with such programs. The savings come both from reduced injury claims and from fewer incidences of damage to stock.
Without proper tools such as a safety knife, package-handlers—whether shipping and receiving or mail room workers or just ordinary folks—not only risk knife accidents (which can be deadly), but also Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), a kind of musculoskeletal disorder that results from overtaxing certain muscle groups by tensing them for excessive time periods, due to overuse or poor posture. The use of the wrong tools leads directly to such muscle strain and overuse. Box cutters are designed to minimize the use of arm and shoulder muscles. They thus increase efficiency and save time, as well as protecting workers from injury.
The challenges of modern retail, shipping and receiving, mail room, food service, and manufacturing work mount every year. With retailers (for example) typically setting aside $10-30,000 for each lost time injury, those little injuries can very quickly add up. New employees who do—or don’t—follow knife safety rules can quickly wield as much impact on a company’s bottom line as a CEO. Given these realities, no manager or small business can afford to ignore the savings that a business-wide safety knife plan makes possible.
Along with requiring workers to use safety knives, and providing each worker with a safety knife and holster, managers should require their employees to attend knife safety classes. There’s no substitute for well-trained workers. It’s also a good idea to keep a set of box-opening safety instructions posted near all workspaces, such as the following:
To avoid injuring yourself when opening packages, follow these simple instructions:
Place the box on the floor, setting it at such an angle that you will not be pulling the box cutter toward you. In other words, make sure that the line of tape is horizontal, not vertical, in relation to you.
Place your hand on the opposite side of the box.
Rather than cutting straight across all at once, make a series of small, smooth cuts.
To work well, a safety knife needs to be mistake-proof. In other words, its safety features must be so deeply built-in that a new, untrained employee can’t accidentally override them.
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