Home DIY projects are more popular than ever thanks to home improvement TV shows and social sites like Pinterest and Facebook. However, for safety’s sake, it’s important to know what you can and shouldn’t do on your own.
Electrical, plumbing, gas line or roofing projects, and those that involve dangerous substances like asbestos, lead paint and mold, should not be done by inexperienced homeowners. Hire skilled, professional contractors to remove hazardous substances and manage dangerous systems safely.
Projects with the potential of costly mistakes are best left to a pro. For example, if you’re removing a wall to create an open-concept and accidentally knock out a pipe and flood the room, you’ll regret not hiring a demolition expert in the first place.
But don’t worry — there are plenty of projects you can take on yourself that will help make your house a home. Before diving in, make sure you know how to keep yourself and your home safe from a DIY disaster. This guide shares the six most common injuries that occur from doing home DIY projects and offers helpful tips for avoiding injury.
Skin lacerations from working with knives, saws, nail guns or other sharp objects
Even the most conscientious home improvement specialist is bound to be knicked or punctured at some point when working with sharp objects, so those of us without years of experience should take extra caution.
- Always wear protective eyewear to keep debris from reaching your eyes. Even a small, sharp splinter or metal fragment can be hazardous if it quickly propels toward your eye while using a power saw.
- Wear thick, protective gloves and work boots any time you’re working with a knife, saw, nail gun or other sharp object. This includes any time you’re checking or changing a blade of any size.
- Only insert nails into wood and other materials you are not holding — never drive one into an object you’re holding in your hands or resting on your body. Whether you’re using a gun or a hammer, a nail can go straight through the object and pierce your skin.
- Keep all protective shields and barriers on power saws. They are there to protect you from the blade.
- When cutting, move blades slowly across the surface, and maneuver them away from you rather than toward you.
Trauma related to falling from a roof or ladder
Even if you don’t have a fear of heights, there are few things scarier than falling from a roof, ladder or other high area. Taking proper precautions will help you avoid bumps, bruises and broken bones.
When working on ladders:
- Be sure you’re working with a sturdy ladder that won’t buckle under your weight.
- Whenever possible, opt for a standalone model. If you must use one that leans on a surface, be sure it’s placed against a solid, stable structure, like the surface of a wall rather than the edge of a gutter and that its footing is stable and on a non-slip surface.
- Always place your ladder on even ground so it won’t tip over.
- Stand on the lowest-level rung possible to get the job done, and never stand on the top rung.
- Make sure you use a ladder that is the correct height. If you use one that’s too short, you may lose your balance trying to reach the area you need to work on.
- Only use one ladder at a time. Trying to balance between two can cause a fall.
When working on roofs:
- Wear slip-resistant shoes when working on a roof surface, especially if it’s angled.
- Always work on a dry surface — never one that’s wet. Even if the roof is flat, you put yourself at risk of slipping over the edge if you’re working on a slick surface.
- Always check the structural integrity of your roof before stepping on it. Never work on a surface that is weak or rotted, as it could collapse under your weight.
- Working on a heat-absorbing roof — or under a blazing sun — for too long can cause heat exhaustion or heatstroke, which can lead to even greater health issues. If you are going to be working on a roof during a hot time of the day or year, be sure to take breaks and stay hydrated to avoid overheating.
Shock or burns from working with electrical wires
If you’re working anywhere near wires, it’s critical to ensure your safety. Hire a licensed electrician for any project that involves a significant amount of electrical work.
- If you are going to be working with or near wires, turn off the electricity in your home. If wires are going to remain exposed between work periods, always keep the electricity to those wires off.
- Always wear non-flammable clothing and the right protective gear when working with or near wires.
- Work with the proper tools. Don’t use any instruments that could conduct electricity and lead to a shock (like pliers without rubber grips), and don’t work with materials that could ignite from a spark (like dry wiping cloths).
- Be sure electrical work areas are free of flammable materials. A rogue spark could quickly set nearby curtains or fabrics on fire in a matter of seconds.
Burns from working with chemicals or fire
Burns are not only painful but can also lead to permanent scarring. Play it safe by using extreme caution when you’re working with or near chemicals or flames.
When working with chemicals:
- Only use chemicals exactly as directed by the manufacturer, and only in the specified quantities.
- Never mix chemicals.
- Put all in-use chemicals in splash-proof containers.
- Wear long sleeves and protective gear to avoid chemical exposure to skin.
- Always use chemicals in well-ventilated areas, and never near open flames or heat sources.
- Store chemicals that aren’t in use in their original containers (even when there is little left), out of reach of children and pets, and in a temperature-controlled environment.
When working with fire:
- Wash your hands before working around flames, especially if you’ve been working with chemicals.
- Wear protective, flame-retardant (or at least non-flammable) clothing and protective gear any time you’re working with or near fire.
- Never use chemicals to enhance the size of a fire. For example, if you’re burning leaves or other debris in your yard, do not use gasoline as a means of igniting it.
- Keep flames controlled. If it is windy outside, do not start a fire, as it could spread outside of your contained area.
- Monitor fires at all times. Never leave flames unattended.
Bruised tissue or broken bones from heavy fallen objects
It’s easy to avoid hurting yourself from the impact of a fallen object if you practice basic safety skills:
- Secure all portable, heavy equipment when you’re using it and when it’s not in use. For example, do not leave a table saw on the edge of a workbench at the end of the day. Instead, store it in a safe, secure place, and bring it out again when you’re ready to resume working.
- Do not place portable, heavy objects too high or out of reach. If something isn’t easily accessible and you struggle to reach it, you could grasp it insecurely and drop it.
- Do not try to transport objects that are over-sized or too heavy for you to lift and hold comfortably. It’s safer to move them with a dolly or cart.
- Do not leave heavy objects unattended on a roof. Not only can a heavy item fall over the edge and cause injury, but if the roof isn’t sturdy, it could fall through and into the home, potentially causing injury to someone inside.
- Similarly, do not leave tools unattended at the top of a ladder. Bring your tools down with you when it’s time to descend.
Trauma from lifting heavy equipment or materials
Massive objects not only pose a threat to your health and safety when they’re falling — trying to pick up heavy items can cause painful injury. Take these precautions to prevent lifting-related injury:
- If you know something is too heavy, do not try to lift it. Doing so can not only cause you to drop it, but in extreme cases, can even cause injuries like hernias, pulled muscles, pinched nerves and slipped vertebrae.
- If you can’t pick up the equipment or materials needed for your project on your own, hire heavy lifting help. They are trained to handle and haul heavy items and/or have the equipment needed to do so safely.
- If you must lift something heavy on your own, use proper form. If it’s difficult to do so, then it’s too heavy, and you need to find another way to move it.
While it’s fun to be the foreman of home projects, safety should always be your top priority. If you’re unsure whether you’re qualified to tackle a job on your own, be sure to talk to a pro. Consultations are usually complementary, and he or she will will be able to advise you if you’re in over your head.