Many people use a paper shredder to protect their privacy and secure themselves against identity theft. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 8.6 million people were the victims of identity theft in 2010. If you've decided to shred your documents, there are important steps to take to protect your physical safety when you're protecting your privacy.

Personal Injuries

Paper shredders are designed to destroy documents by ripping them apart with sharp grinding metal teeth. If used improperly or without concern for safety, a paper shredder can be quite dangerous. A report by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission found that shredders have caused various finger injuries, including amputations and lacerations.

These injuries can be caused in any number of ways. Loose clothing or jewelry can get caught in a shredder, so be mindful of what is on your person when shredding documents. Fingers can get caught while attempting to remove paper jams – if you do need to remove an obstruction, make sure to turn the shredder off and unplug it.

Injuries to Children

Parents of young children know that it can be a challenge to ensure that a home is a safe environment. Having a shredder can pose another challenge. Curious children can easily get their small fingers caught in a shredder’s teeth. Many shredders have an automatic function that leaves the shredder on while it waits to be activated when it senses paper. Turn off the automatic function or simply unplug the shredder to ensure that a child’s wandering fingers will not be injured if they find their way to the shredder's teeth.

Injuries to Pets

Pet owners should take precautions if they own a shredder to prevent their animal from being injured. A cat’s natural curiosity could lead it to putting a paw in the shredder, or a dog could put its noise or tongue too close for comfort. Unlike children, a pet cannot be taught the dangers of a shredder. If you have a pet, you should take precautions similar to those of parents to ensure that their pets are not injured.

Fire Hazard

Shredders also pose a fire hazard. If paper is left jammed in a shredder and unattended to, the heat from the shredder could cause combustion. Paper shredders that are left plugged in with the automatic setting on are also at risk for causing an electrical fire. Like the other dangers posed by shredders, many can be avoided by simply turning them off and unplugging them while not in use.