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Safety Tips for Home DIY Projects

Doing it yourself should also mean doing it safely. But for folks without a lot of construction experience, knowing how to keep safe while still making progress on a home renovation or repair can be one of the most challenging aspects of the job. Keep these simple precautions in mind while tackling your own projects to increase the odds of staying safe and finishing the project.

Man wearing safety gear to cut wood iStock

Handling projects yourself is a great way to save some money, learn new skills, and increase the resale value on your house. However, working with tools and new techniques come with their fair share of risks, especially if you’re trying something for the first time, so it’s smart for DIYers to focus on being cautious.

11 Safety Precautions Before Starting a DIY Project

Follow these safety guidelines while getting jobs done around the house and you’ll keep out of harm’s way.

Wear proper gear

A woman wearing work gear to cut down a tree with a chainsaw. iStock

Invest in equipment that will protect you from injuries whether from an accident or simply from prolonged exposure to tools or materials. For example, if you’ll be painting or refinishing furniture, a respirator will shield you from harmful fumes while a pair of chemical-resistant gloves will keep your hands covered. But for a riskier task like operating a chainsaw, it’s recommended that you don safety glasses and noise-reducing ear muffs, protective headgear, chaps, and thick gloves. When cutting lumber with a miter saw, eye and ear protection might be all that’s required.

The one thing that all DIYers should own is a pair of work boots. Not only will they provide more stable footing on a construction site, but they will offer a better barrier against punctures, lacerations, and other scenarios than a pair of sneakers. It’s also a good idea to avoid clothes that are excessively baggy and tie long hair back around power tools so they don’t accidentally get in the way.

Don’t use broken tools

There isn’t a pro or DIYer out there that hasn’t taken a risk on a shabby or damaged tool, but it’s a bad idea. Cracked handles, chipped blades, missing components, and frayed wires are all potential safety hazards, and it’s not worth taking a chance. The best course of action is to replace any broken tools before the job even starts. If you’re on a budget, reach out to friends and family and ask to borrow the tool rather than spending money.

Maintain good footing

Whether it’s on a ladder, pushing a board through a table saw, or cutting lumber to length with a circular saw, it’s important to keep your balance and tread carefully.

Don’t attempt to balance on items underfoot, and don’t step over boards, paint buckets, or tools while cutting, drilling, tightening, or loosening workpieces. Always keep two feet on the ground or ladder at all times, aside from when it’s necessary to move.

Make sure blades are sharp

This might seem counterintuitive, but the sharper a cutting or carving tool is, the safer it will be to use. The reason chisels, hand planes, hand saws, utility knives, circular saws, table saws, and miter saws work better with sharper blades is because the user doesn’t have to apply nearly as much force to slice through wood fibers. Conversely, dull blades will require more force, creating the opportunity for slips and mistakes that could end in injury.

Learning to sharpen knives or replacing your blades whenever they are dull can go a long way to staying safe during DIY projects.

Respect hand tools

A carpenter using a pull saw to make a wood cut. iStock

Of course, power tools with their loud motors and high-speed blades are intimidating. But most folks don’t realize that hand tools can be just as likely to injure a DIYer as a power tool. In some cases, people may not understand the proper way to handle the tools, particularly if they didn’t come with a set of instructions like most power tools do. Plus, people may show extra caution while wielding a power tool because it’s easier to see how they have the potential to cause harm.

To reduce this risk, DIYers should realize that all tools can be dangerous and exhibit the same level of vigilance, regardless of whether they have a battery or extension cord.

Use the right tool for the project

DIYers don’t get paid to do work around their house. For this reason, they might not invest in the appropriate tool, and may try to make do with something else to get the job done. This can often lead to using a tool improperly—one of the main causes of DIY injuries.

Always use the tool for its intended use. This includes opening paint cans with a paint can opener, cutting material with the correct blade, striking objects with a hammer (instead of the butt of a power drill), and other similar scenarios. These tools are designed for specific tasks, and they’ll lessen the risk of an accident.

Keep guides and guards in place

Many power tools feature guides and guards to make them safer to use. Occasionally, these guides can get in the way, but it’s important to learn to work with them rather than against them.

For example, retractable blade guards on circular saws can make certain cuts hard to achieve. But a DIYer can learn to position them without removing them altogether, such as holding the guard back with one hand while using a circular saw at an awkward angle. Also, blade guards on table saws can reduce the chance of the user’s hand coming in contact with the blade and prevent the material from kicking back if the blade cams up inside the workpiece.

Factor in fatigue

It’s not surprising to hear that home improvement projects can be exhausting. Even homeowners who are in great shape might use muscles or movements they don’t typically use. This will certainly wear them down over the course of the day—and feeling wiped out can lead to injuries due to strain or poor decision-making.

Fatigue becomes particularly important on Day 2 when the DIYer is usually sore or simply still recovering from the day before. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids while working, eat well, and take lots of breaks.

Keep the job site clean

Professional construction crews have the benefit of safety personnel who survey sites and make sure hazards are managed. DIYers don’t have that luxury. Instead, they need to be their own safety manager and clean up after every step of the process.

Pick up items like scraps of wood just cut from the ends of lumber or small pieces of pipe cut from a plumbing job to prevent slips and falls. Wrap cords and put tools away when they’re not in use. Be sure to place them back in their case or bag before storing them on a shelf or cabinet. This might seem like a productivity sap, but keeping a clean and orderly job site will help prevent injuries from falls or dropped items, ultimately allowing the job to move along at a better pace.

Don’t rush the job

For most homeowners, DIY projects need to happen on the weekend when they’re off from work. Friday evening effectively kicks off a 48-hour clock, and the crunch is on from there to get as much done as possible before heading back to the office on Monday.

Resist the urge to scramble to finish. Rushing will cause careless mistakes and cut corners, but it can also lead to unnecessary injury. If possible, take a few days off to lessen the pressure of getting the job done on a tight timeline. If that’s not an option, give yourself plenty of time the night before heading back to work to ensure the job site is safe during the workweek. Pick up any tools or loose materials, move any potential trip hazards, and make sure there aren’t any sharp objects or nails to run into. While no one likes an unfinished project, getting hurt is almost guaranteed to bring the job to a halt.

Stay safe with smart choices

Regardless of how prepared you might be, accidents do happen. However, you can drastically reduce the risk of injury as long as you keep aware of yourself and your surroundings, use tools properly, and protect yourself with the right gear.