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Most people involved in safety and health practice are not aware of injuries resulting from paper clips. However, some have occurred and are found in historical records.


Paper Clip History

Before discussing safety of paperclips, consider a brief history for the common paperclip that finds widespread use in our lives.

China created paper in the first century A.D. It was initially made from cotton and linen and had limited use because of cost. Inexpensive paper based on wood pulp was invented in the 19th century.  It’s widespread use created jobs for clerks who organized papers and paperwork. One of the most well-known clerks was Bob Cratchit, the hard- working character in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Initially, people organized papers by tying larger groups together with string. The more common method of linking small sets of papers was with a straight pin. That product resulted from the early 19th century methods for forming iron wire. Making straight pins was a complex, inefficient process involving several steps. Also, they rusted, left holes and caused puncture wounds.

New methods about the mid 19th century led to making steel wire, which had better properties. That led to rust-free hooks, safety pins, clothes hangers and paper clips. Beginning in 1867 patents proliferated for many paper clip shapes made from steel wire. William Middlebrook patented his paper clip design in 1899. He sold his patent to Cushman & Denison, an office supply manufacturer. In 1904 they trademarked the design as the “Gem” clip. It has become the most preferred paper clip, although many other shapes remain available.


Paper Clip Injuries

Very few of us have experienced an injury from the common Gem paper clip. The shape places the cut wire ends neatly within the structure where users are not likely to contact them or push on the ends. However, users can bend paper clips quite easily and the ends can puncture skin. Reshaped paper clips can form useful tools for poking, picking, hooking and other tasks.

A modified paper clip increases the potential for skin punctures.

There are recorded cases in which prison inmates reshaped paper clips, sharpened the ends and used them to puncturing abdomens in order to gain access to the medical services of the prison.

There are legal cases in which young students used rubber bands to shoot paper clips at other students. When struck the paper clips caused injuries, including injuries to eyes. The type of injury varies with where a paper clip strikes and its orientation or condition. Bending them into a “U” shape can make them quite dangerous when shot with a rubber band.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission studied (1991-2001) objects inserted into electrical outlets by children under age 10 and causing electrical shocks or burns. Their study identified that about 7 children per day were treated in emergency rooms. Their data identified that paper clips or staples were involved in 5 percent of the cases.


Paper Clip Ban

One of the most significant actions taken for paper clip safety was that of the National Health Service (NHS) in Manchester, England. In 2012 the organization banned metal paper clips as “too dangerous” and required the use of plastic ones. The action came after a member of the staff cut a finger using a metal paper clip.

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