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Essential Safety Tools in Manufacturing

By: Jane Marsh, Contributor

Manufacturing workers frequently use knives and box-cutters to open packages. © PixieMe –

Safety is essential in any workplace but especially in high-risk sectors like manufacturing. While employee safety is a combination of many factors, one of the most impactful considerations is the tools employees use.

Manufacturing accounts for nearly 20% of all nonfatal injuries in private industry, despite employing just 5% of the workforce. Assigning workers the right tools for the job is a crucial step to lowering that figure. With that in mind, here are a few essential types of safety tools for manufacturers.

OSHA-Required Equipment

At minimum, manufacturers should provide what regulators require. Regulations can vary between locations, just as HVAC codes differ between states, but OSHA requirements apply nationally.

OSHA regulations focus primarily on personal protective equipment (PPE) instead of job-specific tools, but these are still crucial. These codes require employers to assess workplace hazards to determine what PPE workers need. Consequently, specific requirements can vary, but most manufacturers likely need hard hats, gloves, and eye and skin protection.

Meeting OSHA’s minimum standards is just the first step toward safety. Up to 60% of typical production activities don’t add value, so eliminating them could remove unnecessary hazards, even if this isn’t a required step. In that same vein, here are some tools that may not be legally required but could provide crucial protection.

Auto-Retracting Knives

One of the most important pieces of equipment to address are cutting tools. Roughly 30% of all workplace injuries involve cuts or lacerations, and manufacturing workers frequently use knives and box-cutters to open packages.

Auto-retracting knives are one of the best solutions to these hazards. These knives typically require employees to hold a button while they cut, retracting as soon as they let go when they’re done cutting. Other, newer models retract when there’s no more pressure on the blade to prevent cuts if a worker slips.

Enclosed Blade Cutters

Enclosed blade cutters are another option for safe cutting tools. These are simpler in design, encasing the cutting edge almost entirely in a plastic guard. The opening is wide enough to cut string or open boxes but too narrow for an employee’s finger or other skin surface.

The advantage of enclosed cutters lies in their resistance to misuse. Human error is one of the leading causes of accidents that lead to injury, and even with extensive training, people can still make mistakes. Enclosed blade cutters make it virtually impossible for workers to cut themselves, removing the risk of human error. However, they’re not as versatile as some other options.


The heavy equipment manufacturers use can vary, but all of it should feature an emergency stop (e-stop). E-stops are devices often featuring a large, red button that workers can press to immediately shut off a machine before it injures someone. The bright color and easy operation ensure that employees don’t have to stop and think about what to do in an emergency.

Many manufacturing tools today come with built-in e-stops, and manufacturers should look to use these. However, if they have equipment without built-in kill switches, they can get aftermarket options, too.

Automated Guided Vehicles

Material moving is one of the most dangerous processes in manufacturing. Forklifts caused more than 7,000 injuries and 70 deaths in 2020 alone, but newer, automated options are safer. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can move materials throughout the facility without the dangers of operator error.

Since AGVs use sensors to navigate, they can detect people in the way that a human operator may not be able to see. Machines are also far faster than human reaction times, so they can brake or move quicker, avoiding collisions.

Keep Workers Safe With the Right Equipment

Tools are only part of the safety equation, but a crucial one. What specific equipment manufacturers need will vary, but these categories will keep workers safe from all common hazards.

Manufacturers should aim to go above minimum safety standards, if possible. Regardless of what other steps they take, though, they should include these essential pieces of safety equipment. WMHS

Jane Marsh covers topics in green technology and manufacturing. She also works as the Editor-in-Chief of

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