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Do-It-Yourself Safety

If you're among the millions of do-it-yourselfers working around homes and gardens, you may not pay much heed to the risks of injury. After all, lawn mowers, chain saws, and other tools are much safer than they used to be, right?

Yes, home-improvement experts respond. But people aren't. Master carpenter Norm Abram says people assume modern safety devices will protect them, but that's a false sense of security. "Tools don't recognize when they're doing something bad and don't automatically shut down at the sight of blood," says Abram, host of public television's popular This Old House. "You shouldn't lose sight of the fact that you still have to be careful."

Many injuries

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that thousands of men and women will visit hospital emergency rooms each year for injuries linked to yard and garden equipment, home workshops, or cleaning and painting supplies.

Many do-it-yourselfers are novices drawn by the "we'll show you how" sales pitches of home-improvement retailers. As more people become comfortable doing these jobs, more are willing to go to a home-improvement store instead of hiring a professional.

To avoid becoming a casualty of the do-it-yourself boom, keep the following general rules in mind.

Read the directions

Before using any electrical equipment or chemical—especially for the first time—consult the owner's manual or instruction labels and learn what the job entails. Look not just at whether you have the basic skills, but whether you can deal with the hazards, advises the National Safety Council (NSC).

Dress for the job

Wear gloves, shoes, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and, most important, safety glasses or goggles. That's because almost anything you're working on at home has the potential to cause an eye injury, the NSC says. Gloves should be thick enough to provide protection and still allow you to feel the object you're working with. Wear a good pair of leather shoes or work boots. Don't wear jewelry or anything that dangles and could catch on a nail or a ladder. Tie back long hair, too.

Handle tools properly

"Approach home improvements in the same way a professional craftsman would," Abram says. "You should have great respect for anything with a high-speed blade or a spinning bit," such as saws and drills. "If you're using a circular saw and what you're cutting starts to collapse, don't keep pulling the trigger. Back off and put in more support. If you're using a reciprocating saw [that cuts with a back-and-forth motion], let the tool do the work. Don't go pushing it, pulling it, or forcing it," he says. "And don't use the right tool for the wrong purpose—a chisel as a can opener, for instance. It's a good way to get cut and ruin your chisel too."

Keep children safe

When you're using power tools, including lawn equipment, ban children from the area. "Kids are fascinated by saws and other power tools," Abram says. "They can get their hands caught in seconds, before you even know they're there." Chemicals and children don't mix, either: Store paint and garden chemicals on high shelves or inside locked cabinets. If your "handyman's special" contains lead paint, hire professionals to remove it and the resulting dust—and keep your kids out of the house during the work.

Use your head

Overconfidence is as likely to cause an accident as inexperience. There's no shame in seeking help.