Injury Prevention

Before You DIY: Safety Tips for Home Improvement

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By Justin Bright, M.D.

As the weather continues to get nicer, people are heading outside and working on home improvement projects. Unfortunately, emergency rooms see a rise in patients injuring themselves in ways that were completely preventable during this time of year too. While I can’t cover every possible scenario in this post, there are definitely some very common injuries that we see in the ER that could be prevented with a few important precautions.

First, you absolutely need to avoid alcohol while working on a project. Alcohol is a factor in more than 50 percent of traumatic injuries seen in the ER. It impairs balance, dehydrates you and increases risk-taking behavior. All it takes is a split second for an injury to happen. Save the beer for afterward when you’re enjoying the fruits of your labor.

The second safety tip that applies to all DIY projects is appropriate protective gear. Eye goggles will keep your eyes safe from debris, dust and sharp objects. Avoid loose fitting clothing, as it can easily get caught in machinery causing severe and sometimes catastrophic injuries. Properly fitting pants and long sleeve shirts will protect your skin from sun exposure, shooting debris and irritants such as weeds and chemicals. Any exposed skin should be lathered up in sunscreen to prevent sunburn and long-term effects of sun exposure.

Now let’s discuss some safety tips for specific types of equipment commonly used for DIY projects.

Ladder Safety

  • Choose the correct ladder for the job – you want to ensure that the height of the ladder is adequate for what you are trying to accomplish. Ideally, your ladder should be a few feet taller than the height you are trying to reach.
  • Make sure you use the ladder on flat, dry ground. Uneven or slippery surfaces will cause the ladder to move or fall as you move on it.
  • Never use the top rungs of the ladder. The weight distribution is too unstable and you are very likely to fall.
  • Beware of wires and other electrical sources nearby.
  • Use a spotter who is on the ground. Never have more than one person on a ladder at a time.
  • Don’t try to balance other platforms on multiple ladders to serve as scaffolding; it is not the intended use for that ladder and will cause a fall.
  • When you’re done with your task, bring your equipment down with you, even if you plan on going back up. Heavy tools can fall and hit you on the way down.

Nail Gun Safety

  • Use only the full sequential trigger function. This means that a nail can only be discharged when the trigger and touch-point safety at the tip of the gun are engaged in a particular order. Other trigger functions are available to allow for more rapid and repetitive fire, but with that comes a significantly higher likelihood of accidentally puncturing yourself with a nail.
  • Wear protective gloves, boots and eyewear to limit injury.
  • Have a good understanding of how the gun works before using it.
  • Make sure you know how to properly load the nail gun.
  • Beware of ricochet-prone surfaces, such as odd angles on wood and knots on the wood.
  • Never try to nail a piece of wood that you are holding – the nail can go through the wood into your hand.
  • If you are punctured with a nail, seek medical attention – nail injuries are very prone to infection.

Power Washer Safety

  • Wear protective goggles, closed shoes and gloves to protect from debris.
  • Never spray something that you are holding – the pressure from the washer is enough to rip skin right off your hand.
  • Avoid spraying close to electrical boxes or wiring.
  • If you are using a gas powered washer in a closed space, make sure you have proper ventilation.
  • Some skin injuries from power washers can appear minor at first – but the high pressure injection makes you very susceptible to infection. If you have a skin injury from a power washer, seek medical attention.

Saw Safety

  • WEAR PROTECTIVE GOGGLES! We see more eye injuries related to saws than all other tools and instruments combined.
  • Do not wear loose fitting clothing – it can get caught on the blade and pull you toward it before you can turn off the saw in time.
  • Make sure you know how to use all the safety switches and guards before using the saw.
  • Never remove shields, guards or make any other modification to the saw.
  • For larger pieces, make sure there is adequate support to hold them – it will provide better saw stability and prevent injury from ricocheting debris.
  • Use a push stick to advance wood so your hand doesn’t get too close to the blade.
  • Don’t start the saw with the blade already engaged in the piece of wood – allow the blade to move freely and get up to full speed before cutting.
  • Never check or change the blade unless you are sure the saw is switched off and unplugged.

Completing a home or yard improvement project can be really gratifying. Just be sure to protect yourself, use common sense and avoid alcohol while working on a project. We want you to stay safe and stay out of the ER.