Paper Shredders May Hurt Kids' Hands

If Caught in Shredder, Little Hands Could Be Seriously Damaged

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 06, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 6, 2006 --- Got a paper shredder at home? Keep toddlers and young children away from it, even if you're supervising them, doctors warn in Pediatrics.

"Toddlers are at risk of finger injury and amputation" from paper shredders, write Ramona Warren, MD, MPH, and George Foltin, MD.

Paper shredders should be kept unplugged and out of children's reach, the doctors write. They also urge parents not to let young children use or be near shredders at any time.

Shredders have become more common in homes. The devices should carry a warning about injury risk, be designed to avoid hand injuries, and come with blades that can be easily separated in an emergency, write Warren and Foltin.

They work in the pediatrics and emergency medicine departments of New York University's medical school and Bellevue Hospital Center.

Hands Caught in Blades

The doctors describe treating a 2-year-old girl whose hand had gotten stuck in a working shredder.

The girl's parents were using their home shredder when their daughter walked by and put her hand on top of the shredder. "Her fingers were drawn into the shredder opening along with the papers, far enough to allow her fingers to contact the cutting mechanism," the doctors write.

The girl's father unplugged the shredder. With much effort, he pried his daughter's hand out of the blades. The parents wrapped their daughter's hand in a towel and headed for the emergency room.

The girl had surgery but likely has permanent finger damage, especially in her third finger, write Warren and Foltin.

Supervision Not Enough

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warned in May 2004 that paper shredders could injure young children, the doctors note.

Warren and Foltin checked CPSC records and found 31 reports of injuries linked to home paper shredders from 2000-2003. Nearly three-quarters of those cases involved children younger than 12. Most of those kids were less than 3 years old.

"The CPSC investigation of the circumstances surrounding the injuries found that, surprisingly, injuries among children occurred frequently while the children were under adult supervision," the doctors write.

For instance, one case involved a mother who was teaching her 6-year-old daughter how to safely use the shredder. The mother looked away for a few seconds to get another piece of paper.

Meanwhile, the 6-year-old got distracted by a younger sibling. The 6-year-old's fingers got drawn into the shredder, resulting in the amputation of three of her fingertips.

Shredder blades can be hard to separate, the doctors note. They state that in several injuries reported to the CPSC, children were taken to hospitals with their hands still in the shredders. In one case, doctors had to use the building maintenance staff's tools to remove the machine.

"The CPSC concluded from its investigation of multiple cases that inattention or distraction played a role in the injury for older, school-aged children and that younger children were most likely unaware of the risk and lacked the physical coordination to release the paper in time to avoid catching their fingers in the machine," write Warren and Fortin.

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SOURCES: Warren, R. Pediatrics, February 2006; vol 117: pp 535-538. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.
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