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Updated 18 February 2008

10 DIY disasters

Many people underestimate the dangers in doing their own home repairs. So what should and shouldn't you do?

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Right, when something goes wrong in your house at 3 am, you don't have the option of calling the plumber or the electrician. Best you can probably do is to switch off the electricity and the water mains, whichever is appropriate.

But many people underestimate the dangers in doing their own home repairs. In the UK alone, 70 people die per year while fixing their homes.

There is usually a sharp rise in accident numbers during spring, as this is the time of year people set about repairing the ravages of winter, such as blocked gutters, rising damp, mouldy garden walls and so forth. The largest single cause worldwide of DIY injuries, is falling off ladders. Power tools and electricity are also high up on the list.

While many of these things seem obvious, you only have to think of your circle of friends and family to know that people don't always stick to these rules.

Doing your own repairs can be disastrous. What are the things to look out for?

Not having the right equipment. DIY enthusiasts who regularly do their thing at home, usually have the right equipment. Where the danger comes in, is where someone who doesn't usually do much around the house, decides to sand down a window, put in an electrical extension, or paint a ceiling. Not having the right equipment could be downright dangerous and result in some very serious injuries. It is not OK to use a knife instead of a screwdriver. A half brick instead of a hammer, or a table on top of a chair instead of a ladder is simply downright dangerous.

Having kids or animals underfoot. When you are doing repairs, it's best to do it behind closed doors. DIY equipment is dangerous – especially to toddlers. Get a babysitter, or do the repairs while the kids are at school or nursery school. The last thing you need while painting the bedroom, is a toddler covered in acrylic paint.

Call the professionals. Electrical work and plumbing – leave these to the professionals. Needless to say, there is a reason why electricians and plumbers study for a long time before entering the field of work. What they do is difficult, often dangerous and should not be attempted by someone without training. Change a plug or a light bulb by yourself by all means – don't venture beyond this unless you really do know what you are doing. You could electrocute yourself, burn down the house, or flood the entire place. Don't go there.

Not the ladder to success. Most DIY accidents happen when people fall off ladders or ladders collapse, because they were not standing on a flat surface or there was no one holding them. Serious back injuries and fractures can be sustained in this manner. Incorrect use of ladders is dangerous. Never lean to one side on ladder. Put it on a flat surface and get someone to hold it.

Take off all jewellery or loose clothing. This is especially important when working with a drill, as these items of clothing can easily become entangled in it. The right clothes are important when doing jobs around the house. Shoes with a good grip and clothes that are easy to move around in are important. Wear old clothes – no one emerges clean or unstained from a DIY stint.

Ask the professionals. Ask at the hardware shop what you will need to do the job. Using the wrong equipment, or trying to do something which is too difficult, can actually endanger your health. If the people at the hardware store recommend that something be done in a certain way, using particular equipment, listen to them. Many people who haven't, have landed up in hospitals.

Going up in flames. Remember that paint and paint stripper can be flammable. Don't smoke or light a match anywhere near either of these. It could be the last thing you ever do.

Get masked. Wear a mask when working in a dusty area or while spray painting or working with fibreglass. When using a heat gun to take the paint off old furniture or doors or windows, remember that a hundred years ago, people often used lead paint as a basis. You don't want to breathe this in.

Get unplugged. Switch off the mains and unplug an electrical appliance before working on it. This seems so obvious, yet many people get injured or shocked every year because they did not do this.

Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey. Don't rush. It is better and a lot safer, to do a good job over three days than a rush job in one day. Don't be impatient and do follow instructions carefully.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated February 2008)

 
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