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Bob Campbell has done his own concrete work for years. So the Akron, Ohio, do-it-yourselfer never thought twice about laying the concrete foundation for his new carport.
Until he got into the shower afterward, and the skin on his knees came off.
Campbell's skin had come into contact with lime from the cement portion of the concrete. When alkaline compounds get moist from water or sweat, the reaction can eat away at skin and other tissue.
It had never happened to Campbell before, so he didn't know about the potential danger. And because he didn't know about the danger, he didn't read the warning on the bill of sale he got from the company that delivered the concrete.
A month after the accident, Campbell's wounds have healed with no long-term damage. But he wanted other homeowners to know about the hazard in the hope of sparing someone else.
That's the thing about do-it-yourselfers: It's not uncommon for handy types to plunge into projects with more confidence than know-how. And sometimes that can-do cavalierness can have painful consequences.
Accidents from projects around the house send thousands of do-it-yourselfers to emergency rooms each year. For example, in 2010, lawn mowers sent an estimated 89,518 people for treatment in the United States; home workshop power saws, 80,688 people; and workshop manual tools, 131,762 people, according to the most recent figures available from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Not all accidents are preventable, of course. But in many cases, some simple precautions can save us from ourselves.
John Drengenberg of Underwriters Laboratories and Christy Beeghly of the Ohio Department of Health offered some suggestions for reducing DIY injuries.
Even something as simple as changing a light bulb can have potential danger, says Drengenberg, manager of consumer affairs for UL. Screw in a bulb that uses more watts than a socket is rated for, and heat can build up over time, he noted. That can damage the socket, the wires in the fixture or even the wiring in the wall, possibly sparking a fire.
His point: Lose the "I can accomplish anything" arrogance and humble yourself enough to find out what you're getting into.
We're busy. We don't like spending precious time on nagging projects when more appealing options beckon.
But rushing can lead to injury, noted Beeghly, the Health Department's violence and injury prevention program administrator.
Take the time to make sure you're prepared, she said. Read all the instructions. Assemble the equipment you'll need. And give yourself time to do the job properly and safely.
Often the instruction manuals for tools and equipment will include safety tips, so read them and heed them, Drengenberg urged.
Safety glasses are a must if you're working with any tool or in any situation that might lead to eye injury. Think that through, Beeghly urged. Bits of material can fly up when you're drilling, sawing or hammering. Branches can poke your eyes.
Gloves, ear protection, proper footwear and other protective garb or equipment can also be important, depending on the job. Avoid loose clothing, jewelry or long hair that might get caught in equipment.
Ladder accidents account for more than 200,000 emergency room trips a year, Drengenberg said. Long extension ladders aren't the only culprits. Stepladders and step stools can be dangerous, too, he said.
The basic rule he cites is "one step at a time, two hands at a time." Wear a tool belt so you can always keep two hands on the ladder, or have someone hand up tools to you, he suggested.
Use the right ladder for the job, and set it on a flat surface, Drengenberg said. Don't overextend your reach, no matter how much trouble it is to get down and move the ladder instead.
And never stand on the top rung. "That's for trapeze artists, not for do-it-yourselfers," he said.
Tools such as power saws and hedge trimmers have a place for both your hands. That's intentional, Drengenberg said. It gives you more control of the tool and discourages you from using one hand to hold the item you're cutting. Use a clamp instead, he said.
Another feature that exists for a reason is the safety guard. Don't remove it, Drengenberg said, unless you absolutely have to for making a special cut. If you do remove it, replace it immediately.
Keep tools in good working order, and be sure to use the right blade or tool for the task, he said. It's funny when someone posts a picture online of some doofus trying to prune his tree with a circular saw. It's not so funny when that doofus cuts off a couple of fingers.
This isn't a Felix Unger thing. Picking up debris, cleaning up spills, unplugging and putting away tools and equipment, and otherwise keeping your work space reasonably orderly means less chance of slipping or tripping, Beeghly said.
Those precautions also help safeguard children and pets, she noted. Of course they should be kept out of the area when you're working, but it's just as important to make the work zone safe for them when you're not.
Extension cords are made differently for different jobs. Some carry less power than others; some have jackets that can stand up to moisture or hard use; some have particular types of prongs. Talk to a knowledgeable salesperson at your hardware store or home center who can help you choose one that fits your needs, Drengenberg suggested.
If you're working outdoors, use only a cord rated for outdoor use. Use one that's long enough so you don't have to plug two or more extension cords together. The connections can get exposed to moisture from rain, snow or dew, possibly causing electrical leakage, Drengenberg said.
Never try to repair an extension cord with electrical tape, he said. Replace a nicked cord instead.
Accidents happen, even when we take the proper precautions. Make sure those precautions include having a properly stocked first aid kit, Beeghly said.
Pay attention to that little voice that says you might be in over your head, Beeghly said. Stop if you're not comfortable with a tool or a procedure, especially when you're working with electricity or tools that are difficult to control. That's a good indication it's time to call in a professional, she said.