DON'T FOOL AROUND WITH TOOLS
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It's no accident that construction work is the most dangerous of all livelihoods. Think of all the hazards - power tools, ladders and scaffolds, slippery surfaces, exposure to the elements. OSHA spends a lot of time on construction jobsites trying to shape things up. Craftsmen undergo rigorous training during apprenticeship and continuously afterward. Nonetheless, injuries still continue to happen at a disturbing rate.
This is with professionals. Imagine the chances of an accident happening when a homeowner takes to "tooling around" the house.
Household accidents injure upwards of six million people a year, according to the National Safety Council. Some 94,000 people went for emergency treatment for injuries inflicted by home workshop saws in 1991, the last year for which statistics were available. The NSC also reported more than 118,000 emergency room cases from manual tools of all kinds that same year. Many of these accidents occur around this time of year when people awake from winter's cabin fever to embark on long awaited home improvement projects. Some haven't worked with any tools since last summer. They, like their tools, may be "rusty."
It may be true that "accidents will happen," but there are many accidents that don't have to happen if you take a few simple precautions when working around the home. Here are some of the main danger areas.
*GFCIs save lives. A protective device called a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter automatically shuts off current if there is a problem in the circuit. Most home codes require them for certain vulnerable locations in the home, such as bathrooms or near kitchen sinks. Be sure your home is so equipped.
*Inadequate wiring. Do your lights dim when an appliance goes on? Do fuses blow or circuit breakers trip frequently? Do motors slow down? Do kitchen appliances fail to heat properly? Does your television picture shrink? Is your home short of outlets?
All of these may be signs of inadequate wiring, which presents a severe fire hazard. If you experience any of these "brownouts", call an electrician.
*Extension cord hazards.
1. Be sure to use heavy-duty extension cords for power tools and equipment, and moisture-resistant cords for outdoor work.
2. Never pull a cord to disconnect from an outlet. Pull on the plug itself.
3. Keep cords away from heat and water, and inspect them prior to every use. If frayed or cut, get rid of them.
4. Don't place cords where people will trip over them. Also, don't place them under rugs or in other places where they will be subject to excessive wear and can't be easily inspected.
*Water & electricity don't mix. Never use electric tools outside when it's raining or wet. Use electric power mowers only on dry grass. Always wear shoes when using electric mowers or hedge clippers.
*Power lines. Keep ladders, especially metal ones, away from power lines.
*Keep a clear head. Never operate power tools after you've been drinking, or taken drugs or medication. Put them down when you are fatigued, and don't smoke while operating power tools. Imagine what can happen if a hot ash drops on you while you're working with a power nailer or saw.
*Pull the plug. If a cutting tool stalls, turn off the power and unplug the tool before trying to restart it.
*Rev it up. Let power saws reach full speed before cutting. Be sure the item to be cut is firmly secured.
*Safety first. Get in the habit of using a broom handle or stick to clear scraps from a sawing table. Never use your hands.
Secure metal materials with clamps or a vise before cutting or drilling.
Never leave tools or hazardous materials laying around, especially if you have youngsters in the house.
Ladders & Accessories
*Proper set-up. Lock or bar the door when you set a ladder behind it. Never climb to the top rung of a ladder, and never stand on the braces, extension arms or paint shelf.
*Ventilation. Remember that lead solder is toxic. Only solder in ventilated areas, and wear a respirator. The same holds true when using plastic cement.
*Fiberglass. Fiberglass insulation must be handled with care. its particles can irritate the skins, eyes and respiratory system.
*Stairway precautions. Be sure to install (and use) railings by all stairways. Place reflective tape or strips at the edges of all stairs. Also, carpeting at the bottom of stairways can help cushion a fall.
*Fire protection. Be sure to install a fire extinguisher, smoke alarm and first aid kit in a workshop or other areas where you usually work with tools. Also keep emergency phone numbers handy.
When's the last time you checked your smoke alarm batteries?
*Eyes, nose, ears & feet. Get in the habit of wearing safety goggles, hard hat, ear plugs and dust masks for any construction work. Don't wear sandals or canvas shoes, and avoid loose-fitting clothes that could get tangled in power tools.
*Gloves. Wear heavy gloves and long sleeves to protect you from sharp edges. However, don't wear gloves when they will interfere with the operation of heavy tools. Use them instead for handling rough materials, items with sharp edges and for cleaning up.
Ask for Evidence of Insurance
So far we've been warned about hazards that confront the homeowner working in his or her own home. In some ways you need to keep your guard up even more when hired help does the work.
Guess who's responsible if an uninsured worker gets injured in your home? You could be sued not only for the cost of treatment, but also held liable for time-off compensation, lingering disabilities and even punitive damages.
This is why it's critically important to choose a contractor carefully for any home repair work. Owners and general contractors of major building projects are paying greater attention to construction safety than ever before. Many refuse to hire subcontractors with an inferior safety record. They know how costly that can be.
Take a lesson from them. When you do background checks before hiring a contractor, ask about their safety record as well as job performance and integrity. Always ask for a certificate of insurance before allowing anyone to work in your home, and if in doubt, call the insurer to verify that the contractor is covered.