Home improvement cable television channels such as HGTV and The DIY Network are extremely popular, and every week their shows such as “Fixer Upper” and “The Property Brothers” illustrate how rewarding it can be for homeowners to take up their tools and “do it yourself.” Unfortunately, these DIY shows fail to mention the carnage – both to the structure and workers – that these projects can sometimes cause.
According to Home Safety Council, of the 43 million DIYers taking on improvements, one in five will end up in the hospital every year due to accidents that occur while completing these projects. When those people who are also hurt from hammers, wood, knives and other common home improvement objects, that number increases by more than 220,000.
A home improvement website noted the ten, specific tasks that cause the most problems and injuries:
- Cleaning out the gutters. Combine serious height, a shaky ladder and wet leaves – what could possibly go wrong? Falling from as little as three feet can lead to serious injury.
- Taking down that old tree. Cutting down a formidable tree can lead to broken bones if it comes down the wrong way, and using a chainsaw can lead to some gruesome, life-threatening injuries.
- Roof repairs. Climbing up on the roof is always fraught with danger, and the worse the slope, the more likely you are to tumble to the ground. Some minor repairs that can be done from the safety of the ladder might be okay, but don’t climb on the roof to fix major issues.
- Carpentry work. It might sound easy enough but fixing that cabinet or building a bookcase might call for the use of power tools, such as table saws and nail guns. One false move with these handy items can land you in the hospital.
- Any electrical work. Where there is electricity, there is danger – without exception! Electric shock can be anything from a small warning jolt to a massive surge that stops your heart. If you must tackle a small job, like changing out an outlet, always wear protective gear and ensure the power is off at the main.
- Repairing a gas line. There are so many possible scenarios for danger when it comes to gas lines that it is impossible to list them all. When working with gas lines, always call in a professional.
- Landscaping. Again, there are power tools at play. That can always spell trouble. Fortunately, most homeowners manage to do this kind of work every year without injury. The trick? Keep your equipment in top condition.
- Working with chemicals. Whether you are painting your house or stripping the old finish from hardware, working with harsh chemical can cause serious problems.
- Demolition. Many homeowners try to save money by doing their own demo work before the contractor gets there. But demolition can release toxins into the air, result in falling wood, and make the whole area unstable.
- Simple household fixes. Sometimes the “easy” things result in injury because we don’t take into account just how dangerous they are. For example, moving heavy furniture, can easily injure your back.
Preventing DIY Disasters
Dr. Rey Bosita is an orthopedic spine surgeon who is on the referral line of Texas Health Spine & Orthopedic Center. While he is a physician and not an accident prevention expert, he has treated his share of DIY mishaps. Here are some prevention tips he has learned.
“Ladders are accidents waiting to happen if they are used improperly, he said. “Falling from a ladder at even a few feet up can cause fractures to the spine, joints and other bones. One excellent DIY website suggests the following tips on avoiding the falls.”
When working on ladders:
- Be sure the ladder is strong enough to hold your weight and the weight of your tools and supplies.
- Whenever possible, opt for a stand-alone 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 your ladder is tall enough. 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.
“Lifting objects that are too heavy or incorrect lifting of any sized package or tools can result in a strain to back muscles causing a great deal of pain,” Dr. Bosita said. “In more serious cases, this lifting can cause a herniated disc or fracture of vulnerable joints in the spine. Here are some ways to avoid this.”
Precautions to prevent lifting-related injuries:
- Be honest with yourself. Know your limits. 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.
- Get help. If you can’t pick up the equipment or materials needed for your project on your own, use machines or hire heavy lifting help. They are trained to handle and haul heavy items and/or have the equipment needed to do so safely.
- Lift smart. 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.
“Tools are an important part of do-it-yourself home improvement,” he said. “Unfortunately, unless someone is a professional carpenter, plumber or electrician, these tools – such as nail guns and table saws – are used infrequently. If the user is unaccustomed to these tools, accidents will often result. Here are some tips from another DIY source on preventing injuries from tool use.”
Avoiding injuries from tools:
- Hand Tools – Even non-power tools can be dangerous because every tool is capable of causing injury. Before you attempt to use a tool, know how to use it properly and safely. Do not use power tools with damaged cords, and do not use them around flammable liquids or gas.
- Table Tools – Big saws and other table tools are clearly dangerous, and that’s why many of them have built-in safety precautions. Don’t let this make you too comfortable. Operate table tools with extreme caution and only when you’re in full possession of your wits. An accident with a table tool can result in a life-altering injury. Also, protect your eyes!
- Knives – Knives are a common part of everyday life. When using knives for DIY, keep them sharp. It’s safer to use a sharp blade than a dull blade because it requires less force. Always cut away from yourself when using a knife and don’t walk around with it in your hand. Don’t use them for any other task than cutting, slicing, dicing or chopping. They are not for prying or any other use that could cause injury.
DIY: Don’t Injure Yourself
In spite of the ease with which professionals on TV portray home improvement and other DIY projects, they require the correct tools and the ability to use them correctly. When in doubt about these types of projects, ALWAYS call a professional and “Don’t Injure Yourself.”
Has a recent DIY project caused you to suffer from back or orthopedic pain? If this persists for more than two weeks, contact the referral line at Texas Health Spine & Orthopedic center for an appointment with a participating physician.
Physicians who are members of the referral program practice independently and are not employees or agents of Texas Health Spine & Orthopedic Center.