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Do-it-Yourself Projects That Lead to the Most ER Visits

As the economy continues to bump along many homeowners are taking their lumps as they attempt to make home repairs they would normally hire someone else to do. This year 43 million homeowners will take on 57 million home improvement projects. Of those intrepid folks, one in five will be injured, according to the Home Safety Council.

Accidents that typically send people to the emergency room involve falling off ladders, getting struck by mower debris, lacerations from a power tool or chain saw and burns or breathing difficulties caused by household chemicals. “We want to keep reminding people how easy it is to do a job right by doing it safely,” says Meri-K Appy, a safety expert with the HSC, who reminded us that June is Home Safety Month. Here are five of the most common do-it-yourself mishaps—and how to avoid them.

Climbing a ladder. Falls from ladders and stools sent over 246,733 Americans to hospital emergency rooms in 2009 (the last year for which full statistics are available) according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Experts from the CPSC, HSC and Consumer Reports recommend the following:

  • Use the right ladder for the job. Always select a height that doesn't require you to reach up or out in a way that destabilizes the ladder; keep your belt buckle centered between the rails.
  • Set up your ladder on a firm, level surface. With an extension ladder, the base should be one foot away from the wall for every four feet the ladder reaches up.
  • Use your stepladder only in the open, A-shaped position and lock the spreaders.
  • Don't step above the labeled maximum height. Beyond that point, the odds of an accident increase significantly.

Mowing the lawn. Lawn mower-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms totaled 86,000 in 2009. The most common injuries were caused by debris, such as rocks and branches, being thrown by the mower's spinning blades. Here’s what to do:

  • Send the kids into the house or well away from the area you are mowing.
  • Check the lawn for debris (twigs, rocks and other objects).
  • Wear sturdy shoes with sure-grip soles, never sneakers, sandals or bare feet.
  • Never refuel the mower when it is running or while the engine is hot.

Using power tools. Home power tools resulted in 83,204 emergency room admissions in 2009. The most common injuries involve cuts, especially to the fingers and hands. The Power Tool Institute recommends.

  • Don’t wear loose clothing or jewelry that could become entangled in moving parts.
  • Unplug the power cord before you change a part or do any trouble-shooting on a tool that is jammed or won't start.
  • Wear safety glasses with side shields.

Working with paints and other chemicals. Accidents involving paints, solvents, lubricants and cleaning agents caused 53,907 emergency room admissions in 2009. Injuries often include chemical burns and breathing problems. Here’s how to avoid mishaps:

  • Store and use pool chemicals according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Gasoline is dangerous inside a home or garage—vapors can explode with just a tiny spark.
  • Keep chemicals and cleansers in their original containers and don’t mix them.
  • Wear gloves, goggles and masks if the product’s label says to do so.

Using a chain saw. Chain saw accidents sent 26,593 to the emergency room in 2009. Kickback—where the tip of the saw snaps up and back toward the user—is involved in one in four injuries. Cuts to hands, fingers, legs and feet are typical and usually require multiple stitches. Here’s how to stay safe.

  • Wear eye and ear protection, gloves, tight-fitting clothing, cut-resistant leg chaps, boots, and a hard hat with a protective face screen.
  • Grip the saw with both hands and keep both feet firmly on the ground.
  • Saw only tree limbs you can reach from the ground while holding the saw below your shoulders.
  • Avoid sawing with the tip of the chain and bar, where kickback typically occurs.

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