Aussies and Kiwis are proudly unafraid of picking up the tools when the need arises, from simple paint jobs to full renovations.
An unfortunate side effect of our commitment to D.I.Y. is accidents and injuries. Whatever project you are undertaking, it’s important to do everything you can to stay safe.
Your single greatest precaution against harm is your safety gear, technically known as PPE – personal protective equipment.
The old saying “plan for the worst while hoping for the best” should be applied. There’s no harm in wearing more gear than you may think you need. For example, when mowing the lawn, why not wear gloves as well as ear, eye and foot protection?
If you are using power tools where there is dust created or a risk of material being ejected, you need eye protection. That includes drills, line trimmers and hammers.
There are great safety glasses for outdoor use that look like sports-style wrap-around sunnies giving you both physical and UV protection. For indoor use, look at safety glasses with clear or light-enhancing yellow lenses.
In dusty situations such as when installing insulation, or when using tools like angle grinders or line trimmers, use the goggle-style protection that has full coverage on all sides.
A more serious option is a face visor. Often made of a fine stainless steel mesh, visors are intended for use with tools such as brush cutters and chainsaws which can eject a lot of material back towards the user.
Damage to your hearing is something that will typically only appear over time. You may not think your lawnmower, blower, power saw, nail gun, or hammer are doing damage, but they can be slowly causing damage.
Hearing protection comes in two main types: over-ear in the form of earmuffs or in-ear as earplugs. Choose protection that is up to the task as many are rated for the noise level reduction they offer. For example, general purpose Class 5 earmuffs will reduce sound levels by around 30dBA, taking a noisy and damaging 100dBA power saw down to a safe 70dBA.
A short sharp sound of excessive level can cause immediate hearing damage but so too can a constant sound of a lower level.
If you will be exposed to any low-level hazard for an extended time, wear appropriate protection. Mowing the lawn is perhaps the best example. Your mower may not seem that loud, however, if you are doing the edging, pushing the mower around for 30 minutes and then blowing to tidy up, that’s a lot of noise exposure.
This is one of the more complex areas of PPE as there are a variety of respiratory protection types for different situations.
For most situations involving basic nuisance dust, a plain dust mask will suffice. But if you start to deal with chemicals or hazardous dust then you need to look at proper respirators. Read the packaging of respirators and masks carefully before purchasing to ensure that your needs are covered by the level of protection offered. And check the labels on products you are already using as they will likely tell you the class of protection required as well as other precautions such as ensuring adequate ventilation.
Masks, respirators and cartridges should be replaced frequently, especially if used in dusty environments.
There are a huge range of gloves to suit every purpose. The range starts from lightweight garden gloves to heavy duty, demolition-grade gloves that feature knuckle protection. Ensure your gloves are suitable for the work you are undertaking and that they are a comfortable fit while still allowing you to have a sense of touch.
Most gloves will be wrist length, however there are long gauntlet gloves that are designed for situations such as welding, grinding or rose pruning where your forearms need protection. And if you are working with chemicals of any sort or using certain paints or sealants, then wear chemical-resistant PVC gloves.
Ongoing exposure to vibration from power tools can cause long-term health problems. Disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome can develop over time causing all manner of issues such as tingling, numbness and weakness in grip. You can reduce such risks by wearing anti-vibration gloves. It also helps to regularly service your power tools to keep them running smoothly and efficiently.
All footwear worn during D.I.Y. tasks (even regular jobs like mowing the lawn) should be fully-enclosed and with a quality non-slip sole. Where a higher risk exists, look at work boots. And in more hazardous situations such as working with mowers, chainsaws or handling heavy materials or equipment, wear heavy-duty boots with protective toe caps.
Beyond the big five of eyes, ears, breathing, hands and feet, there is a range of specialised PPE that is worth knowing about and adding to your kit.
Disposable overalls are useful when using chemicals or paints that may leave stains or undesirable residue on clothing, or when installing insulation. They are also a must if there is a risk of working with hazardous dusts from lead-based paint or asbestos.
When you remove this gear, turn it inside out so that any surface material is not shed, and dispose of it in a sealed bag.
Hard hats are essential when working with chainsaws or on a worksite when any activity is taking place overhead. If a hard hat suffers a serious impact, it should be immediately replaced as the impact has weakened the shell.
Integrating a face shield, forehead protection and ear muffs, combo units also can include a hard hat. Protection combo units are for use with heavy duty brush cutters and chainsaws and similar multi-risk situations.
Knee pads can save you from serious long-term knee damage but also from nasty puncture wounds that can easily occur from kneeling on a nail or other sharp object. These are worn like skating knee pads.
Kneelers are another option and are generally a high-density foam mat you can move with you and place down as needed.
Designed primarily for wearing when using chainsaws, cut-resistant chaps, pants and jackets provide protection against serious injury should a chainsaw kick-back or the chain breaks.
Perhaps one of the most insidious of D.I.Y. risks is the materials that may be lurking in your home. The two major risks are lead from lead-based paints and asbestos-based products.
Up until the mid-70s, many domestic paints contained lead. If you are renovating an older home you need to take this into account and take suitable precautions.
The second hidden nasty is asbestos. It was a very common component of many building materials up until the early 80s. It can be present in wallboards and cladding, roofing, insulation, vinyl floor tiles, pipe lagging, cement and mortar around fireplaces or barbecues, and even stormwater pipes. The golden rule with asbestos is do not disturb. However, this may be unavoidable or inadvertent when you are unaware that asbestos board is behind modern gyprock.
The best approach is to identify the possibility of either lead-based paint or asbestos being present – the biggest red flag being the age of the property. Do your research into whether work can safely be conducted and if in any doubt, call in the professionals.
It is always satisfying learning new D.I.Y. skills and completing a job. But a very important skill to learn is to know when to call in the professionals.
As much as we all like to learn, there are times when you have to admit that a job is beyond your capabilities and your tool kit. The further you push yourself, the riskier a project might become. You can save yourself a lot of angst and stay safe when you recognise and respond to your limits.
Of course, electrical and plumbing work should not be D.I.Y. jobs. This is not just a safety issue, it is a legal obligation. Call in the trades in these situations, even if it’s something seemingly as simple as moving a light switch.
Another area when extreme caution needs to be applied is anything to do with structural works, whether indoors or out. Remember, D.I.Y. safety isn’t just about you on the tools today, it’s also about the job you leave and the safety of everyone using it for years to come.
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