Here’s how to stay safe when doing your own renovations and repair projects.
You’re excited to get to work on that project and proud of yourself for saving money on professional help. But do-it-yourselfers may be at risk of injury, disease and even death, if they aren’t aware of the proper safety measures to take. Read on to find out how to protect yourself against these DIY dangers.
1. Lead exposure
Your home may contain lead-based paint if it was built before 1978, before the product was banned for residential use. Renovating, repairing and painting can disturb old, deteriorating lead paint and release it into the air as dust. Exposure to lead dust can harm a child’s maturing nervous system and brain, but it can also affect adults, negatively impacting blood pressure, nerves, muscles, joints, fertility, memory, mood and more.
To reduce the risk of lead exposure, follow proper procedures. Remove furniture and household items from the room you’re renovating, and put plastic over built-ins. Close all the windows in the room where you’ll be working. Then, tape off the room with plastic sheeting. (Make sure your pets and kids can’t get in.) Turn off the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, so the vents can’t carry lead dust to the rest of the house. Wear protective clothing, including a respirator with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, so you don’t breathe in the dust. When you’re finished, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and wet wipe and mop the room. You can also contact a certified lead inspector to test your home before you begin, and if necessary, hire a lead abatement contractor to safely remove the dangerous substance.
2. Asbestos exposure
As with lead, you don’t want to disturb this material, which was commonly found in houses built prior to the 1970s. Asbestos in good condition is no problem, but if you breathe in the fibers released when asbestos is disturbed, it can put you at risk for lung cancer.
Asbestos was used for insulation between 1930 and 1950. Other products in your home that might contain it include roofing materials, textured paints and pipe coverings. If you’re renovating, never remove or repair asbestos or even take a sample to be tested yourself. Hire a professional.
3. Heavy lifting
Whether you’re doing a major renovation project or simply rearranging furniture, lifting heavy items can put considerable strain on your back.
“The pressure to the intervertebral disc, which is your spine’s shock absorber, is greatest when your spine is bent and you are holding weight in front of your body,” says Raymond Hah, MD, a spine surgeon at Keck Medicine of USC and assistant professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Injuries often occur when you’re lifting an awkwardly shaped object, like a couch or large box. Take extra care in these situations.”
Hah suggests adhering to these good lifting mechanics to prevent injury to your muscles, ligaments or discs:
- Ask others to help you lift heavy objects.
- Keep your back straight rather than rounded.
- Lift with your legs rather than your back.
- Hold objects close to your body.
“If you’re lifting very heavy objects, wearing a supportive brace may help protect your muscles and ligaments,” he adds.
If you do have an injury that doesn’t improve within a few weeks with rest or anti-inflammatory medications, or if you experience back pain accompanied by any radiating pain into the buttocks and legs, Hah says that’s the time to seek medical attention.
4. Ladders and electricity
You probably know ladders can be a fall risk. But did you also know that they can be an electrocution risk? If you are working near electrical lines, never use a metal ladder or a wooden one with metal reinforcement wire, because it can conduct electricity. Use a fiberglass ladder that has nonconductive side rails.
If you must use a wooden or metal ladder when doing tree trimming, gutter cleaning or other outdoor work, keep your ladder away from overhead power lines, which often are not insulated. Even wet tree branches that may touch your ladder can conduct electricity from power lines. Make sure you would be nowhere near overhead lines if your ladder were to slide or fall. Keep at a safe distance of at least double the ladder’s length.
5. Power tools
Not surprisingly, power tools, such as saws, drills and nail guns, can cause serious injuries, including lacerations and even amputations. Your eyes are also at risk from flying debris. Make sure you have read the operator’s manual, and never take your focus off what you’re doing when you’re using the tool. In addition, never remove or disable the safety guard or switch while the tool is in use, and make sure to wear protective gear, such as goggles or gloves.