Accident statistics are often paraded by principal contractors at site entrances, mandated in subcontractors’ pre-qualification or confused with abbreviations such as ASR and AFR.

Although it is difficult, but not impossible, to conceal a RIDDOR reportable accident,
minor cuts to hands are definitely under reported. The many reasons why minor
injuries are not reported is a complex subject. Nevertheless hand injuries are very common
amongst operatives working with plasterboard. A simple gauge being how quickly
plasters vanish from First Aid boxes – when there is only a single entry in the accident
book in three months!

Cutting plasterboard with a retractable blade (Stanley) knife is the industry approach.
Whilst many other safer methods are available which remove any potential
contact with a blade – they are too cumbersome. When operatives are on price work
with tight margins the Stanley knife comes to hand all too readily. As many of you
know the hierarchy of risk control commences with the eradication of the hazard at source. Equally if a control measure proves to be difficult or time consuming it will be circumvented.

There are many safety knives available – predominantly aimed at the food and packaging industry. Furthermore, they tend to address the hazard of an exposed blade (when the knife
is not in use) or limit the depth of cut. They will not protect the individual when actually cutting plasterboard.

Recently I visited a site where an operative injured his hand (requiring stitches) when cutting plasterboard. The operative was very experienced. When quizzed on how the injury occurred he could not recall as it happened so quickly. One thing I noted was the cut resistance of his gloves (cut resistance 1).

BS EN 388: 2003 Protective Glove Against Mechanical Risks – specifies a range
of five levels (1 – 5) of cut resistance. Level 1 being the least resistant – 5 being the
greatest. In instances where it is not possible to create a ‘safe environment’ the focus
needs to be on making a ‘safe person’ situation through the use of PPE.

Obviously there are other areas where an operative could be injured with a knife (thighs and lower torso being high risk areas) but in my experience hand injuries are the most common.

PPE as a control measure is only effective if part of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. I encourage all employers to consider the use of a level 5 resistant gloves. Whilst these may not prevent an injury occurring they will certainly reduce the severity. Obviously it will incur a higher initial cost and may require tighter controls on
how PPE is issued. However, ultimately it will engender a safer working environment.

I would advise all elements of the use of the glove are taken into account (i.e. duration, dexterity) when making a selection, as poor choice may result in secondary hazards (i.e. dermatitis, sweat rash, allergic reaction to material). Undoubtedly consulting with
the users and undertaking some simple trials are wise.

An important element of risk assessment is to consider all the foreseeable hazards – and you don’t have to look very far to regarding cutting plasterboard with an exposed blade. Hence I recommended you consider the use of cut resistant gloves.

Alistair Moffat
Brunel Construction