How to avoid a DIY disaster on lockdown

How to avoid a DIY disaster on lockdown

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

DIY accidents are all too common and falling is the number one reason for injuries. In order to avoid any mishaps, it's essential to wear the right protective equipment, use the correct tools and follow the manufacturer's guidelines. Read on for our top tips to stay safe while carrying out home repairs.

Important features

  • Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Following manufacturer's instructions
  • Protecting yourself and others
  • Identifying and assessing risks
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How to DIY safely

DIY is a favourite pastime for thousands across the UK. Six in 10 Brits are constantly making home improvements while the most enthusiastic DIYers admit to having as many as 16 small jobs on the go at once.

Painting, decorating, plumbing, fixing electrics and even tackling insulation feature among some of the most popular DIY tasks. But, unfortunately, fixing up your home doesn't come without its risks; in 2019, 4,764 people in England alone were admitted to hospital as a direct result of a DIY accident.

DIY jobs on lockdown

Many of us are making the most of our time in lockdown to get our homes spick and span. But lots of us are also getting stuck into renovation projects or taking care of the garden.

Of course, these tasks can be a really productive way to fill your time – as long as you don't end up in A&E with your finger in a bag of frozen peas!

We all know that tackling a new tool or project is a nerve-racking experience – and rushing things is usually the main reason behind a DIY disaster. So please think through your plans carefully: if you are getting ready to fire up a chainsaw for the first time, handle a tool you're not familiar with, or if you simply have two left hands, just forget about it. It's also not the best time to be climbing up your roof, scrambling up to trim the top of a tree or having a wheelbarrow race with your kids.

Hospitals are currently overloaded and staff are working at full force against the coronavirus pandemic. So stay in the house, stay in one piece and put your high-risk DIY projects on the back burner.

Every DIY job has its risks

Even the most seemingly harmless home improvement tasks are not without their risks:

  • Painting your walls can involve exposing yourself to VOCs, falling off a ladder or even injuring your hand opening the paint pot.

  • Working with electricity means risking an electric shock or injuring yourself with your drill or pliers.

  • Decorating can also be a risky business: from laying a floor to hanging up curtains, plenty of things can go wrong (falls, power tool injuries and so on).

  • Plumbing work can cause burns, cuts or crushed fingers or toes.

  • Doing any work with insulation means you may be handling potentially irritating products which is not good news for your respiratory system. You may also run the risk of a fall, depending on where you're working.

Understanding the risks involved with any task will help you to avoid trouble. We'll take you through the most common DIY accidents and offer our top tips on how best to prevent them.

Working at a height

Climbing up on a slippery or wobbly ladder is simply asking for trouble: nine times out of ten, it will not end well for you.

Ladders and stepladders can be very dangerous equipment if used incorrectly. Anyone planning to climb to any height must use fall-prevention equipment; that includes safety netting, a harness or scaffolding. And remember to watch where you put your feet! Even from a small height, a fall can leave you badly injured or worse.

Safety advice

  • Ladders are only suitable for short, lightweight work. Do not attempt to work with heavy tools or for long periods of time on a ladder.

  • Always wear non-slip shoes when working at a height.

  • Only use ladders that meet the appropriate CE and BS standards.

  • Ensure your equipment is stable before you attempt to climb it (correct ladder angle, non-slip surface with no surrounding objects, treads in good condition, etc.).

  • Follow all manufacturer's guidelines when using the equipment (correct angle, maximum weight, etc.). .

  • Use a harness or other fall-prevention device if you are working at greater heights (roof work, etc.).

Choosing the right tool for the job

It won't surprise you to hear that anyone who can't tell the difference between a heat gun and a hairdryer will soon be making a trip to A&E. We can't emphasise this enough: each tool is designed for a specific application. And don't even think about using a hammer that's on its last legs.

It is essential to work with tools that are in good condition – especially when it comes to power tools which turn at very high speeds and have teeth!

Safety advice

  • Check the general condition of the tool before use and consider any potential risks (cutting through a power cable, losing any loose parts, blade loosening, etc.).

  • Only use tools that are in perfect working condition and meet the appropriate standards (BS and CE). Always follow the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Never attempt to use a tool for a job it is not designed for and follow all instructions.

  • Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment at all times (safety goggles, gloves, safety shoes, etc.).

  • Never attempt to remove any safety features from your power tool (emergency stop, safety guard, etc.).

  • Store your sharp tools in a way that prevents hand injuries. Do not carry scissors around in your pocket and always cover up sharp edges.

  • Always wait until your power tools have come to a complete stop before placing them down. Otherwise, you run the risk of cutting through a cable, injuring your foot or damaging the tool.

  • Be sure to sharpen your tools regularly: a blunt tool is a dangerous tool.

Wearing appropriate safety wear

This shouldn't be news to you but knocking down a wall wearing flip flops or climbing up a steep roof with a rope tied around your waist are both good ways to seriously injure yourself.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as safety shoes, safety goggles and fall-prevention harnesses – is made to be used. This equipment won't do you any good sitting in the garage.

Safety advice

  • Use PPE that meets BS and CE standards.

  • Do not work alone if possible.

  • Wear suitable clothing (no jewellery, scarves or bulky clothing).

  • Be sure to match your PPE to the job at hand.

  • Check that your PPE is in good condition and not expired (protective masks, etc.).

Keeping kids and pets safe

Once again, use your common sense. Do not ask your youngest child to hold a board in place while you hack through it with a saw. If you are holding a dog lead in one hand, don't attempt to prune a tree with the other... Basically, what we're getting at is that children and animals have no place on a job site.

Safety advice

  • Keep kids and pets far away from anywhere you're working.

  • Any dangerous items or liquids should be locked away in a cupboard.

  • Do not keep any tools within the reach of children or animals.

  • Do not ask young children to help you carry out your DIY tasks.

Handling dangerous products

Hydrochloric acid is a great descaling agent; it is not a good mouthwash replacement. As a general rule, bear in mind that any product that cannot be eaten or drunk is probably harmful for your health.

Varnish, household cleaning products, paint, paint stripper... all these chemicals can cause skin damage and are harmful to breathe in. Even some solid products, such as glass wool, mineral wool or powders like plaster, can cause serious damage and trigger allergies.

Safety advice

  • Wear the right PPE when handling chemicals (mask, gloves, etc.).

  • Do not attempt to mix products (you may cause a chemical reaction, explosion or fire).

  • Do not use chemicals if you have a serious respiratory condition (asthma, allergies, etc.)..

  • Read all instructions carefully before attempting to use chemicals.

  • Follow all safety advice (keep the room ventilated, etc.).

  • Do not use strong chemicals if you are pregnant.

Storing chemicals

  • You should be able to easily identify chemicals using their original label (do not tip products into different containers).

  • Chemicals must be closed and sealed after each use.

  • Chemicals must be kept out of reach of children and stored in a locked cupboard (and don't leave the key in the lock...).

  • Keep your chemicals in a well-ventilated area, far from any heat sources or flames.

Staying safe with solid or powdered products

  • Wearing personal protective equipment is highly recommended (mask, protective clothing).

  • Ventilate any rooms where work is taking place.

  • Clean up your work zone carefully using a vacuum cleaner (not a broom).

  • Wash yourself thoroughly after handling glass wool to prevent any fibres from penetrating your skin (this can cause irritation).

Working with electricity

Everybody knows that water and electricity don't mix and that you shouldn't put your fingers in sockets. But if you do find yourself tempted to make a couple of quick repairs, it's worth noting that, unless you are a qualified electrician, there are strict legal limits on the types of tasks you can actually do at home.

Electricity is dangerous and you run the risk of burning or seriously injuring yourself. The risk of electric shocks is very real and can have extremely serious consequences including death.

Safety advice

  • Do not play around with electricity.

  • Always shut off the power at the fuse box before working on an electric circuit.

  • Work using insulated tools and wear PPE designed for electricians (insulated gloves, electrician's pliers, etc.).

  • Ensure your tools meet the correct standards.

  • Never attempt to work on an electrical circuit near water.

  • Check the cables of your power tools before you start work.

  • Keep flammable products far away from any heat sources (do not smoke as you work).

  • Wear the appropriate PPE (welding mask, heat-resistant gloves, welding apron, etc.).

  • Be careful when transporting any objects or hot products.

Following basic safety precautions

Hammering your fingers or dropping a heavy object on your foot will happen more often than you might think. As a bare minimum, pay attention to your surroundings and be sure to keep well out of the way of others.

Safety advice

  • Wear gloves and safety shoes at all times.

  • Assess the risk of any object falling.

Protecting your hearing

Ideally, you'll want to wait until you're growing old for your hearing to start going downhill. So don't wait until you've already damaged your hearing to start protecting your lugs! Your ears need to be covered up, just like the rest of you.

Safety advice

  • Wear hearing protection in any noisy environment.

  • If you start to notice any hearing loss, contact a ENT specialist.

  • Get far away from any noise exposure quickly if you feel your hearing protection is not working adequately.

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Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Redo a roof with wooden beams? Check. Advise everybody in the DIY shop? Check. Redo bathroom plumbing? Check. If it doesn't work, try again! I'll do my best to advise you in your projects.

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