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Vol 38  No 3
September 22, 2005




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Train-the-Trainer program in knife preparation

A sharper blade

By Sharon Gray

In the Biomedical Engineering Centre, Dr. John Molgaard (L) demonstrates knife-steeling technique (also using cut-resistant Kevlar gloves). Dr. Scott MacKinnon (R) is co-leader of the program to translate and transfer this knowledge and technology developed in Quebec to this province. Inset: An instrument produced in-house to measure the angle of a knife’s cutting edge is one of the tools Dr. Molgaard uses to assess the sharpness of the knife. (Photo by HSIMS)

Sharper knives mean better production and fewer injuries in meat and poultry processing plants, at least according to a program developed in Quebec.

Now, with the help of funding from the Workplace, Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Quebec program will be implemented as a pilot project at three plants in Newfoundland and Labrador through SafetyNet, a community alliance for health research on occupational health and safety focusing on industries in Atlantic Canada.

“One part of our current research program is to identify best practices and innovative approaches in occupational health and safety developed in Quebec and transfer this knowledge and related technologies to Atlantic Canadian researchers, community partners ­ and, most importantly, workplaces,” said Dr. Scott MacKinnon, SafetyNet’s Research Chair in Workplace Health and Safety.

Dr. MacKinnon said SafetyNet identified the innovative “train-the-trainer” program in knife preparation development in Quebec as an ideal candidate for an interprovincial knowledge transfer.

The benefits of the program are that sharper knives reduce musculoskeletal injuries in the workforce while also enhancing productivity and quality of output. SafetyNet’s representatives have discussed the potential benefits of the knife-preparation project with senior representatives from Country Ribbon Inc., Fishery Products International Limited (FPI) and the National Seafood Sector Council.

“All three parties agree that the implementation of this program should be of considerable benefit,” said Dr. Stephen Bornstein, co-director of SafetyNet. “Country Ribbon has agreed to provide the locale for the first stage of the transfer project and FPI has promised to consider hosting one or more of the subsequent stages.”

The total cost of this knowledge transfer initiative is $151,065 and the WHSCC is assisting with a grant of $56,280 from its Promotion and Education Initiatives, the first time funding has been awarded under the policy.

Dr. John Molgaard, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, is co-leader of the project. “Evidence from Quebec and elsewhere suggests that local tradition and the habits of individual workers produce knives that are less than optimally sharpened and that are difficult for workers to keep sharp.”

Dr. Molgaard said that if a worker’s knife is not sharp enough, greater strength and more movements are needed to make the required cuts. “What results is increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders for workers as well as increased difficulty in keeping up with work pace.”

Dr. MacKinnon said that in Newfoundland and Labrador, upper-extremity soft tissue disorders are a significant problem in workplaces, including those in food-processing industries.

A number of meat and chicken processing plants in Quebec are now using a program developed by a group led by Dr. Nicole Vézina from the Université du Québec à Montréal, who has volunteered her expertise as a member of the project team for the Newfoundland and Labrador project. The program was developed in association with the IRSST (Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail). It involves training butchers in the sharpening and honing of knives, resulting in improved quality, less wastage and fewer repetitive-strain and other injuries.

In the program, experienced workers who are familiar with knife sharpening and honing are trained in the basic theory of these skills and trained to be trainers of other workers, said Dr. MacKinnon. “This builds on the knowledge and skills these workers already possess, improving on that knowledge and skill and turning them into both knife experts and trainers in their plants.”

For the SafetyNet project, a small team of occupational health and safety professionals from this province will be trained to implement the program in local workplaces. “Colleagues at the Université de Sherbrooke’s Department of Management will also use the opportunity of the pilot project to study and document the nature of the technology and knowledge transfer processes and the impact of the Quebec program under different conditions,” said Dr. MacKinnon.

This research project is one of many that will be featured at a major international conference, Research on Workplace Health and Safety: From the Core to the Margins, that will take place from June 7-10, 2006, in St. John’s. The conference is being organized jointly by SafetyNet and the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health. For further details on this conference and on other SafetyNet projects visit


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