Everyday Hazards: Tape

MacGyver kept tape in his back pocket. Socrates may have jury-rigged a piece of it with hide and sap. There’s even some on the Moon.

Whether duct, masking, packing, Scotch®, surgical, or electrical, it seems like there’s a roll in every garage and under every sink in America. What can’t it fix?

As it turns out: your mistaken use of it. Every year, thousands of injuries are caused by tape.

The odds a person will visit an emergency department due to an accident involving masking, duct, or other adhesive tape in a year are 1 in 170,200. You’re about as likely to visit the emergency room for a tape-related injury as for one involving a serious piece of outdoor equipment: a leaf blower (1 in 171,100).

The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, part of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, records product-related injuries by year. For 2007, the NEISS lists 38 tape-related injury narratives, ranging from the ordinary to the downright surreal. The most frequent injury appears to be lacerating one’s hand, either while cutting/removing a piece of tape or on the dispenser (14 instances in 2007). Other common narratives involve allergic reactions to tape adhesives, tripping over or being hit by a roll of it, or its being ingested, inhaled, or otherwise misused. Not to mention narratives of a more singular nature:

  • 48-year-old female: “2 bottom teeth fell out while tearing masking tape with teeth” (2005)
  • 16-year-old male: “Playing game with church group, hands/feet duct taped and tied behind back to another person, fell onto carpeted cement; mandible fx.de.” (2004)
  • 38-year-old female: “Eating soup & found tape in soup, now throat feels sore and scratched.” (2007)

As for tape-related deaths: while there is currently no reliable data on their frequency, they are not impossible. In a tragic event in 2003, three Israelis—a mother and her 2 sons—suffocated after sealing their room with plastic sheeting and duct tape hoping to protect themselves from a potential chemical attack. A coal-burning heater drew the oxygen from the room while they slept, causing their precautions to fatally backfire.

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