Common Home Improvement Accidents (and How to Avoid Them)

Thanks to popular home renovation TV shows like Property Brothers and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition glamourizing home improvement, more and more Americans are taking to renovating their own homes.

While television makes renovating an entire home in less than a week look perfectly do-able with no risks attached, things are slightly different in the real world. As rewarding as renovating your own home may be, it is also fraught with potential pitfalls, not least personal injury, ranging from minor to fatal.

Approximately 13 million people are injured in the USA every year while carrying out repairs to their homes, while as many as 55,000 accidental deaths are attributed to negligent DIY practices according to The Register-Herald.

Whether you are redoing your entire home or simply tearing down your bathroom or kitchen, it is imperative to engage in safe working procedures. There are countless hazardous home renovation practices that can lead to injury, but most are easy to identify, and with a little forethought, planning and common sense, they can be prevented with ease.

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Falling Off Ladders

Most home improvement tasks require the use of a ladder, and it might come as little surprise that ladders are among the top causes of grave injuries. More than 500,000 people are treated for ladder-related injuries every year according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and nearly 300 of these accidents result in fatalities.

The most common injuries stemming from a ladder fall include fractures of the arms, hands, ankles, neck and legs, as well as potentially-severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Furthermore, using a metal ladder when installing or repairing electrical equipment can lead to electrocution risk in addition to falls from height.

How to prevent ladder-related injury

  • Always check your ladder for loose or broken joints prior to using it and be sure to use a wooden ladder when working with electricity.

  • Don’t ever try to balance a ladder on top of a table or wall to gain extra height and remember that the feet need to be planted firmly on solid ground.

  • Keep the popular 1:4 ratio in mind to ensure optimal ladder stability: placing the ladder a foot away from the wall or structure for every 4 feet of height.

  • Don’t attempt to climb to the top rung of a ladder, and make sure you always have enough space to hold on to while working.

This video is great at showing how to get on and off a roof safely (skip to 4:33 if you want to skip the Ladders 101 section):

As with so many things, ladder safety relies on sound common sense – if a situation seems unsafe, chances are it can result in disaster and should best be avoided.

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Electric Shock Hazard

Electric shocks can take the form of anything from a small, sharp jolt to a surge so big it stops your heart. More than 280,000 Americans are hospitalized every year due to electric shocks, with nearly 400 electrocutions being fatal according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Electric shocks are not uncommon during home renovations and usually occur when circuit breakers and wiring is being replaced without the current turned off. Electrocution can also occur when standing on a metal ladder while working with electricity as previously mentioned, or when operating faulty power tools.

This video is from the classic show Home Improvement and shows Tim ‘The Toolman’ Taylor teaching his kid some valuable DIY lessons:

Preventing electrocutions during home renovations

  • Before you start working on any renovation project involving electricity, it is important that you turn off the power in the right area. If you are in the slightest doubt, opt for turning off the entire room or house to be on the safe side.

  • Make sure you know how to perform the task at hand safely and confidently. If you do not have faith in your own capabilities, it is far better seek out the services of a qualified electrician – with electricity, it is not worth taking risks.

  • Double check the cables on power tools before using them, as even the smallest nick can result in a nasty shock once the device is turned on.

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Power Tool Related Injuries

Every year, the unsafe use of power tools result in more than 400,000 trips to the ER according to data compiled by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

As hazardous as using power tools might be, it will be very difficult to conduct any home renovations without them. The most common power tool injuries include electrocution, eye injuries due to flying debris and sparks, lacerations and even full-blown amputations.

Power drills, belt sanders, circular saws, wood routers, and angle grinders are capable of causing serious injury and should be handled with the utmost care and full attention. Even air compressors, which are commonly used in metal and woodwork, cause more than 2,400 injuries a year, according to research published in Forbes.

Reducing the prevalence of power tool injuries

  • Before using a power tool for the first time, make sure you read the instruction manual and thoroughly acquaint yourself with the correct operating procedure.

  • Don’t operate any power tools in cluttered, cramped surroundings that can make it difficult to maneuver yet easy to slip and fall.

  • Never wear loose clothing while operating power tools, as they can get caught up in the moving parts and result in serious injury.

  • Protective eyewear is highly recommended and can prevent potentially blinding injuries to your eyes.

  • Don’t ever attempt to switch blades or drill bits while the tool is on and always treat any piece of equipment you work with, with the utmost respect.

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Exposure to Toxic Fumes

While carrying out home improvements, chances are you will be exposed to a number of potentially noxious fumes emitted by many common renovation materials including paint, adhesives, carpeting and upholstery.

Inhaling harmful fumes can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness as well as more severe consequences such as allergic reactions and asthma attacks.

While paint, rubbing alcohol and turpentine all have very strong odors, some potentially dangerous fumes are harder to detect, and therefore are even more dangerous, as you are likely to be exposed to them for prolonged periods of time before noticing their side effects.

Reducing the risk of exposure to noxious fumes

  • When working with fume-emitting substances, ensure that the room you are occupying is well-ventilated. Fresh air is one of the best ways to get rid of toxic fumes within an enclosed area.

  • When working with known fumes, wear a good respirator and always try to clean paint brushes and paint portable items outside where there is better air circulation.

  • Don’t ever mix any cleaning materials, chemicals or paints unless the enclosed instructions call for it, and never use any product that does not carry a very clear label.

  • Remember that the toxic fumes released by the products you are using do not only affect you but anyone else in your home as well, including your pets.

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Tripping, Slipping and Falling

More than one million people experience trip, slip and fall-related injuries every year according to data compiled by the National Safety Council, with most of these accidents occurring at home.

Some of the most prevalent injuries resulting from such accidents include bruises, lacerations and fractures to the wrists, arms, pelvis, hips and spine. While falling off a roof while carrying out repairs can be fatal, you do not need to fall from such a distance in order to get hurt.

You can slip and fall while walking and still end up with severe injuries that can set you back tremendously in terms of your renovations as well as cost you a trip to the ER.

How to prevent dangerous trips and falls

  • When carrying out renovations, set aside some time to lay down non-slip mats and invest in a pair of comfortable non-slip shoes.

  • Inspect your surroundings for any turned-up rugs, cords and nuts, bolts and screws that you might trip over or slip on.

  • If you spill anything, deal with it immediately and ensure that no greasy residue is left behind after wiping it up.

  • When cleaning your gutters or roof tiles, make sure you use a sturdy ladder and refrain from walking on the roof surface where possible.

 

General Tips to Help Prevent DIY Injuries

There are a number of basic, all-round tips that can be utilized to reduce the risk of accidents while carrying out improvements to your home. By adhering to these guidelines at all times, you significantly decrease the chance of you, or someone you care about, end up in the ER due to a very unfortunate accident.

Keep hazardous areas cordoned-off

At least 6 children are killed every day in home accidents in the USA, with thousands more ending up in the ER every year, according to a study conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide.

When carrying out home renovations, there are bound to be a lot of tools, dangerous chemicals, broken glass and exposed nails in the area. It is therefore vital to effectively block off any dangerous areas, especially if you have small children or pets in the house.

Don’t ever underestimate the willpower of a curious child (or cat). Simply telling someone to stay out of an area is no guarantee that they will do so. Make sure all entrances to work areas are completely child-proof – ultimately, that is the only real way to prevent any unfortunate accidents from occurring.

Know your own limitations

There are few things that can compare with the immense feeling of accomplishment once your home makeover is complete. As tempting as it may be to conduct every aspect of your home renovations yourself, it may not be a viable option, especially as far as your safety is concerned.

If you attempt to tackle projects that are outside your areas of expertise, you can end up not only wasting substantial amounts of money but find yourself being gravely injured as well. If you have no experience in pertinent fields of home repairs such as plumbing, electrics and roof tiling, it works out quickest, cheapest and safest to hire an experienced contractor to do the job.

There is no shame in being unable to carry out an entire home makeover by yourself; even veteran renovators often choose to outsource some of their tasks.

Don’t renovate when feeling under the weather

If you are feeling ill or are battling with an injury it is safer to take the day off work and fully recover than risk serious injury.

There is a reason why power tools come with distinct instructions warning against operation while under the influence of drugs, alcohol or medication. Even an over-the-counter analgesic or antihistamine can cause drowsiness that can impact your vision, coordination and general mental clarity substantially.

Using a power tool in that sort of condition could spell disaster for both you and your home. Only carry out your renovations if you are feeling mentally and physically fit and able to do the job to the best of your ability.

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Try not to work alone

It is with very good reason that you never see people conducting home renovations by themselves on television – there is safety in numbers.

Not only do many hands make light work, but an extra set of hands and eyes can also prevent accidents from occurring. Roping in a friend, family member or paid worker to assist with the renovations will provide you with someone to hold the ladder, pass you your tools and take over the paint job while you take a much-needed break.

If you do get injured or suddenly fall ill, it can make the difference between life and death to have someone with you to provide first aid and alert the emergency services if necessary.

Accidents can happen to anyone at any time, and while we are unable to foresee the future and prevent accidents at all costs, we can take the necessary steps to prevent them to a large extent.

As enthusiastic as you might be to finish your renovations as quickly as you can, it is important to value your own safety and that of those around you above everything else. Read labels, follow instructions, rest when you are tired and complete your home makeover with your wits about you and all your limbs still firmly intact.