Evaluation Background: Safety Scalpels

September 22, 2021 | Evaluations & Guidance


Here's background for our Evaluations of safety scalpels, outlining the key considerations for making wise purchasing decisions. Learn how the technology is used, which specs are important, and what factors we test for. Also review ECRI member hospitals' total spend on products from each scalpel manufacturer.

Safety, or protective, scalpels are handheld surgical knives that resemble traditional scalpels, but feature various types of engineering solutions to protect the user from sharps injury before, during, and, with some devices, after use. Similar to standard scalpels, safety scalpels are typically used for skin puncture and incision, as well as tissue dissection. They are frequently used in surgery, but may also be used in other clinical care areas.

Safety scalpels may be either reusable or disposable. Reusable scalpels consist of a metal handle to which a disposable blade can be affixed. Following each procedure, the blade is removed and disposed of and the handle is sterilized. Device assembly is inherently required (i.e., the knife blade is not integrated into the handle). Disposable scalpels consist of a plastic handle with an integrated metal knife blade. The entire scalpel is disposed of after use.

Safety scalpels use one of the following types of safety mechanisms:

  1. A retractable blade. The blade retracts into the handle when not in use, similar to a box cutter.

  2. A retractable sheath. A sheath that extends to cover the knife when it is not in use.

  3. A blunt blade. The knife has a rounded instead of a pointed tip.

When safety scalpels were first introduced, they were entirely disposable; they had plastic handles and thus weighed considerably less than conventional reusable scalpels. However, many surgeons prefer the weight and feel of a traditional reusable scalpel. More recent design changes include engineering efforts to redesign the devices to be more like traditional reusable scalpels, including:

  1. Reusable metal handles, or attachment of a safety cartridge blade...

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