DIY How To

Hidden dangers of DIY

James Byrne has a toe for a thumb. In 2011 the father-of-one sawed through his hand in an accident at his Bristol home, and despite months of treatment the reattached digit refused to function. So doctors took the unusual step of removing his big toe and attaching it to his hand.

Despite possessing bizarrely mismatched hands, Mr Byrne was lucky compared to many who suffer DIY accidents. Newspapers and social media regularly post pictures of mishaps that resulted in injury or narrow escapes, and while some are portrayed as mildly amusing or fortunate the reality is that disaster may occur if normal safety checks are ignored, or if carried out by someone ill-equipped to attempt the task. Skilled tradesman such as those who have learned their craft at will be fine, but the novice DIY enthusiast should beware.

Don't become a statistic

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) 220,000 people are admitted to hospital from DIY-related injuries each year. Injuries from tools and machinery are the most common cause, with 87,000 enthusiasts needing treatment.

The next most common cause is ladder and stepladder accidents, responsible for 41,000 injuries. These are often among the more serious as people have fallen from great heights. Ladders should be secured safely on level, firm ground, for 'light work'. If the ladder is in several sections make sure they are locked properly, and make sure you have a firm grip.

Even carrying items incorrectly is perilous. Dropping hammers, bricks and slabs on feet is painful, but the danger can be amplified when electrical items are being wielded. In 2005 Leicester man Nigel Kirk fired a nail into his heart from a nail gun after tripping on a towel – doctors said that the nail point was 1mm from causing his death. Mr Kirk's near miss was one of 15,000 nails and nail gun related incidents every year.

Paint and paint pots cause nearly 4,000 injuries a year, both from pots falling and paint dripping into eyes. The former could be prevented by placing pots in a safe location. The latter, and indeed virtually any eye injury caused by chiselling, drilling, sanding, or grinding, could be prevented by wearing goggles according to this report by the Eye Care Trust. In addition make sure pots are covered when not in use as little children might put the liquids in their mouths.

Around 30 people per year die after electrocuting themselves in the UK, either at work or in the home. If you are dealing with sockets, the simple advice is to turn off the power or call a qualified electrician, although many of the 3,000 or so reported incidents of electrocution involve malfunctioning items such as toasters, hairdryers and lawnmowers.

DIY mishaps can also affect not just one person, but a whole house or street. In 2001 Lyn Thomas forced the evacuation of an entire street when he severed a gas pipe while laying a patio. The lesson was clearly not learned, as later that day an errant spade stroke cracked a water pipe, flooding his and his neighbour's gardens.

The successful amateur handyman will check for pipes, wires, asbestos, and respect how to use their tools correctly. Accidents will happen, and some are unavoidable. Most, however, will not occur with a little knowledge, a little common sense, and some sensible precautions.

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