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My girlfriend has recently started a new job where she has to unpack items using box cutters and her bare hands at a "fast pace". Sometimes the items she unpacks are shattered or otherwise sharp for one reason or another, and this has resulted in her getting minor injuries/cuts. And it's not a one-time thing, it feels like it's happening more or less every other day.

To me, this feels unacceptable. I think that at least, she should be given gloves or more time to accomplish these tasks. She, on the other hand, thinks that this is okay given that they "gave disclaimers and papers" she had to sign where they stated it would be fast-paced, and as such argues that it's her own fault for injuring herself, and that using gloves would not be feasible as cutting open bubble wrap and plastic is hard to do with the box cutter so she'd had to take the gloves off again to get a good grip, which she says would be too time-consuming given the fast pace.

I've never had this kind of job myself. The only similar thing I ever had was delivering newspaper bundles I had to cut up using a knife, for which I was given gloves to ensure my own safety when handling them. But that was of course different since my primary duty was driving around, not unpacking things. So, thus I ask, is this acceptable according to US (specifically West Virginia) workplace safety regulations?

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  • @BЈовић I should've been clearer. It's not every day, and they're not major cuts, but I feel concerned something worse could happen given this trend and apparent lack of safety measures from the employer.
    – Newbyte
    Oct 19, 2023 at 10:31
  • What risk assessment has the employer conducted, and what specific procedures were developed as a result? I've worked where it was forbidden to grope inside a package; strict rules insisted the package first be emptied onto a table. I've also worked where it was forbidden to pick up any pile of items, rather than stacking them individually, in case there sheets of glass - broken or whole - in the pile. By the way, there were and with less care, they might have killed me! Oct 23, 2023 at 22:04

6 Answers 6

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Whether it's ethical is subjective, and I would say "no". The important part of your question is about the safety: obviously it's not safe. Do your workplace safety regulations cover this? Think OSHA, or whatever your equivalent is based on your country. Talk to them, file a report with them, check regulations, etc. Having to handle unknown, dangerous, sharp items without safety protection is almost certainly against workplace safety regulations in the United States.

In the meantime, there are cut-proof gloves that definitely should not impede her ability to do her job. My guess is the company makes those statements to get out of buying cut-proof gloves for their employees, given how shady they seem from what you've said.

Also, a waiver that says it's her fault if she cuts herself?? That's so shady and almost certainly illegal it's not even funny. Employers are responsible for injuries that occur on job sites.

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I suggest she uses one glove. That's all you need for these sorts of jobs. One bare hand gives you the tactile abilities you need. The gloved hand gives you the initial protection until you know if you're handling something safe or not.

This is pretty standard workflow for many jobs. Welders, mechanics, factory workers, painters, chemists, forestry workers, gardeners....the list is endless, it's common for a lot of tasks.

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I would start by asking this:

Consider a prep-chef working in a restaurant, chopping up vegetables - that certainly is working with sharp objects - and given how some head chefs are, can definitely be considered 'High time pressure'.

I did some reading around OSHA and found this little line on one of their PDFs:

Your choice will depend primarily on the level of cut-resistance needed. A person using a box knife will not need the same protection as someone cutting fish with a large, sharp blade.

I suspect this line is the wonderful grey area where this issue will sit.

That all said - there is nothing wrong with asking OSHA for a site inspection.

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OSHA has a "general duty clause"

"Section 5a1 of the OSH Act (sometimes erroneously called Section 5a1 of the OSHA Act) says:

Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.

Section 5a1 of the OSH Act is known as the General Duty Clause.

The General Duty Clause, by definition, means that employers must protect employees from any serious hazard once they're aware of it – whether OSHA's rules specifically address it or not."

from this site

Seems like PPE for the hazard is readily available and providing it would not cause undue burden on the employer.

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"Considered safe" by who?

Many jobs involve handling potentially dangerous tools, and one is simply expected to learn, for example, not to scratch an itching leg with the working end of a nail gun or bring your fingers near the butchering bandsaw.

If working too fast is causing injuries, you should probably accept that you can't work that fast until you are better at handling the tool in question. Speed requires skill; skill requires practice at slower speed. If the employer is not willing to buy appropriate safety equipment for you, consider buying it yourself (but remember that appropriate safety equipment for manual tools may be very different from appropriate equipment for power tools). If the employer is not willing to give you time to learn to operate safely, it might be worth starting a hunt for one who is.

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I know there are lots of great answers, but wanted to add my two cents in the form of answer not a comment

In my opinion, she should look for a different job as soon as possible, this place is definite not a good fit and sounds like there is no carrier prospects there either

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