Painting a bedroom? Building a deck? Maybe just hanging up a few pictures?
Whatever do-it-yourself project you may be tackling, it’s a good idea to think of it as being on the job site.
That’s certainly the way Stu Purser sees it. As acting manager of inspections and compliance for the Yukon Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board, he should know.
“A lot of people don’t approach it that way, but it is,” he says.
“Let’s just look at it as staying safe and coming home at the end of the day, and keeping all our fingers and toes.”
The causes of many injuries are same in the home as they are at work.
“I think one thing we need to be most aware of is falls in the home. We’re all guilty of standing on a chair to change a lightbulb, or picking something inappropriate to stand on.”
A “same height fall” (while standing on a floor, for example) is the most common, Purser says.
“It could be a slip, or a trip. And you don’t have to fall three feet. You can severely injure yourself falling from the same height you’re standing on, especially at an advanced age.”
The typical causes?
“A messy worksite, where you aren’t cleaning up your scraps of wood, or extension cords. A number of extension cords run in an unsafe manner. Tripping hazards like that.”
Of course, many falls are from higher up—from ladders, for example. A few precautions can prevent them.
“Using proper stepladders and such. Understanding the safe methods of setting up a ladder: the four-to-one distance from a wall, making sure that it’s secure, that it has good footing underneath it.”
Learning how to do it right is as easy as going online.
“There’s probably 30 million sites that will teach you how to properly set a ladder up, yet we hear year after year setting up Christmas lights and the ladder slides on the eavestrough and we have a fall, and a visit to the hospital and broken limbs.”
Then there are stepladders, often used around the home.
“It’s very important that you never go above the second-to-last step, that you read the labels. All ladders must be labeled, and it’s important to read them,” Purser stresses.
“Some of the ladders have a 235-pound limit, so inspect your ladder, read the labels, and any suspicious damage whatsoever, they should be passed on.”
Fall protection methods are as important around the house as they are on the job site.
“The scary things that I could see would be working at heights above 10 feet, where we’re going to be up there fixing a shingle, or cleaning a chimney, or doing homeowner things.”
Improper lifting is another major cause of injuries. Again, Purser suggests, there are “easily 30 million” websites to learn about proper lifting techniques.
“The number one thing is being prepared for the lift, bend your knees, and don’t over-exert. Get help.”
Being prepared also means being mentally prepared for the lift.
“Think about what you’re doing through the process. This isn’t a clean-and-jerk at the Olympic trials. This is wanting to lift something and move it, so bending your knees and keeping it close to the body. Those two simple things.”
And don’t over-lift, he adds.
“A person knows their own physical capabilities better than anyone else. Some of us are very able to lift 60 pounds or better, and some us know we shouldn’t try to lift 60 pounds, that we should go for help.”
Purser strongly recommends using personal protection equipment (PPE) that’s appropriate for the task at hand.
“I like to use, at the very least, a dust mask if I’m doing a little spray painting. I like to use eye protection if I’m using my sledgehammer and wedge at home to split firewood. I like to use ear protection. I have my hard hat helmet that I use all the time.”
Homeowners, he says, often don’t think about the need for hearing protection.
“Just stop and think about your snowblower. You’re going to be using it for a couple of hours, put the earplugs in.”
The same advice applies to using a skill saw.
“Peak noise, it’s about 125 decibels, so we’re talking on a level of jets taking off at fairly close range type of noise.”
Fumes from paints, solvents, adhesives are another area of concern.
“So let’s talk about ventilation in certain circumstances. If you’re having to glue down plywood, can you do it at the time of year when you can have the windows and the doors open?”
Modern latex paints are less noxious than their predecessors, Purser says, “but it doesn’t make me want to close myself up in an upper stairwell and inhale those fumes all day long, either.”
Using basic protection can also minimize the risks from airborne particles than can damage the lungs.
“Your drywall dust is a real nasty little beast,” he notes.
Some modern insulating material have more adhesive, and don’t break down to as fine a particulate as others.
“But I would recommend eye protection and, at the very minimum a good quality dust mask for installing insulation—just because they’re fibreglass particles, they’re small, they get into the lungs. They can’t be doing us any good.”
Other commonsense tips Purser willingly passes on relate to the proper use and maintenance of tools.
“It’s important not to forget to read the manual and be familiar with the limitations. So, don’t use the tool for anything it’s not designed to do.”
Tools such as saws and chisels should be sharp, because “sharp tools are safer than dull tools.”
Make sure the guards are in place when using things such as table or skill saws. And inspect your power tools at the end of each working shift, he advises.
“If something is suspect, or needs repair, make sure that it’s put away and tagged out of service until you get it fixed,” he says.
“You may be the only worker on the site, that’s fine. But maybe your neighbour is going to come over Saturday morning when you’re not home and borrow something and hurt themselves with it.”
Of course, if you really want to know how to make your next DIY project safer, as Purser says, there are probably about 30 million websites that can help.