Properly protecting yourself from serious personal injuries This article is designed to inform every user of tools about the importance of using safety products for any project.
As a construction expert witness, I am often asked about the importance of using safety equipment. I have many years of personal experience with the proper observance of safety procedures and appropriate safety equipment requirements.
In my professional life as a general building contractor, I have conducted regularly scheduled safety meetings, provided safety equipment to my employees, and trained my workmen on the proper ways to protect themselves while on the job. I have personally monitored my crews to verify that appropriate protective gear is worn and used at all times when needed.
In my personal life, safety and appropriate protective equipment are equally as important. I own, maintain, and use just about every piece of job-specific safety equipment that is available. It is my opinion that your home workshop, personal residence, and yard can become just as dangerous as a construction job site when work is being performed.
Many homeowners think that work around the house is not the same as work on a construction job site. Do-it-yourself television programs make renovations seem simple and easy to accomplish. As a result of these numerous television shows, some homeowners attempt to tackle a renovation project completely unprepared, at least about the usage of safety equipment. I have watched many television programs where the contractors, workmen, and homeowners operate noisy power tools without hearing protection. They tear apart walls and demolish interior partitions without dust masks, gloves, or face protection. While performing hazardous work, these tradesmen do not always address job safety or the potential health hazards from asbestos-related products, plaster dust, or mold issues that may exist within the scope of the home renovation work. These television shows can mislead or ignore the fact that the general public may view these projects as safe and easy to accomplish. They potentially create safety concerns that can affect the novice and uninformed viewer.
Serious personal injuries occur frequently to homeowners doing simple weekend yard work, mainly because they failed to wear protective garments, eye or hearing protection. The “weekend warrior” risks potential injury by over-reaching while working on undersized or improperly positioned ladders, filling hot tools
with explosive gasoline, or digging trenches without checking for underground utilities. They purchase power tools that they may not know how to use and lack the understanding of the potential harm that the tool can create.
In many states, it is a requirement that a construction or demolition site be surveyed for hazardous materials such as asbestos or petroleum products before beginning any work. Even some professional contractors ignore this investigation and most homeowners are completely unaware of this necessary safety check. The importance of this preliminary site survey cannot be overstated. Contamination from construction debris or hazardous waste is not only dangerous to the site workers but can seriously affect the environment and can create costly cleanup-related fees.
I have been the retained construction expert on several personal injury cases that involved trained construction workers. These workmen are required to wear and use protective clothing such as steel-toed shoes and a hard hat during normal on-the-job hours. However, when working on their residences, they chose to wear casual clothes such as tennis shoes, and baseball hats, all the while drinking alcohol. The lack of proper protective gear, in combination with alcohol consumption, and numerous distractions ended in serious personal injuries.
In one of my past construction injury cases, an inebriated tradesman/homeowner decided to adjust an overhead sectional garage door spring. He had no training of any type dealing with these springs and paid no attention to the installed spring tension warning labels. What made him feel qualified was that he had watched a couple of garage door installers repair or adjust a neighbors’ garage door. Not understanding the tremendous stored energy in the garage door torsion spring, and after having had a few drinks, the homeowner decided he dared to remove the bolts that secure the spring and make an adjustment. He chose to use a small wrench. The short tool that he used became unmanageable in his hand, he lost his grip and the tool which was now powered by the force of the stored energy in the spring flew off of the bolts and smashed into his face and head.
How does this story relate to safety products? Safety and the appropriate usage of safety products start with the conscious decision on the part of the user to employ those safety devices. Rational behavior and common sense are often impaired by the usage of alcohol, and any construction or yard work should not be performed while under the influence.
Safety products for almost every purpose are available at most local home centers. While the quality and durability of these products may or may not equal products in professional trade supply houses, they at least begin to address the importance of using appropriate safety products to keep the homeowner aware that safety concerns are real. In addition, most safety products are currently available online and can be purchased for next-day delivery.
Inform Others to Leave You Alone While You Are Working
One of the most basic forms of safety for any job site or home location is to make sure that you have a clear and secure work area. Inform co-workers or your family to leave you alone to do your work. Do not play games around your workspace or allow children or animals to distract you or divert your attention in any way. A glance toward a diversion can create enough distraction to create severe personal injuries. Whether you are using a portable saw, table, or hand saw, distractions equal danger. Pay strict attention to your work, stop when you become tired or lose interest, and remain focused on your project without any outside interruptions. This aspect of safety does not require purchasing any piece of equipment. Continual and ongoing safety should always be your priority.
What Safety Devices Should a Homeowner Have in Their Home?
The following list is a suggested start to basic equipment you should have around the house.
Many common fires around the house can be stopped with the usage of a proper fire extinguisher. While quick action and correct usage may put out the fire, it is important to also be aware of the limitations of the extinguisher used. Fully understand and read all included instructions before usage. It is a good and safe practice to regularly inspect your extinguisher to verify that it is properly charged. It is also a good idea to make sure that the contents of the extinguisher do not become a solid mass. A few times a year it is recommended that the contents be shaken. Alternatively, a rubber mallet can be used to smack the bottom of the device (do not hit the valve or hose components). This agitation will help to prevent the solid materials from clumping into an unusable mass.
Smoke, Fire, Carbon Monoxide Detectors
These devices give warning to unseen, unknown, or undetectable dangerous conditions. It is important to check the condition of the power source to these detectors. If they are hardwired into the building, check to verify that a battery backup exists. If the type of battery installed charges during normal conditions it probably does not need replacing every six months. If the battery is expendable, it is good practice to change it whenever daylight savings events occur. It is good practice to test these devices, either hard wired or battery type, at least once a month to verify that they are working correctly. If a test fails, replace the device immediately to assure your protection. Seek additional information regarding these devices from the manufacturer or online sources.
Fire Escape Ladders
Add extra safety to your family if you have multiple floors. Stairwells can often become chimneys, depending upon the location of a fire. In the event of a fire, it is important to have multiple egress points. Pre-boxed fire escape ladders can be kept under windows, beds or adjacent closets to be used in the event of a fire. Always check the condition of the ladder immediately after purchase to assure that the ladder is usable in the event of an emergency. These ladders are available in some home centers and online for immediate shipping.
Dust Masks & Respirators
Respirators and dust masks are an important part of many jobs. It is important to make sure that your lungs and airways are protected from adverse chemicals and airborne contaminants. There are many types of dust masks available. Dust masks should not be confused or interchanged with respirators. A dust mask is generally a low-cost paper or synthetic filtering device manufactured to help stop dust, debris, and dirt from entering your nose and mouth. A respirator is generally considered a cartridge and filtered system to trap contaminants and purify the air particles before entering your respiratory system. Make certain that the usage of the proper type of mask or respirator is proven for the type of work that you are performing. Make certain that the filters and cartridges in a respirator are approved by NIOSH or OSHA and meet the requirements to protect you. An indication that a respirator needs the replacement of filters is when you begin to smell or taste the products you are using the respirator to filter. When that occurs, always stop work, replace the cartridge or filter before continuing. Always read, follow, and understand the instructions that come with this piece of safety equipment. Check with the manufacturer or supplier to verify that you are using appropriate products for your job.
More professional and stringent requirements for the usage of a certain type of respirator include medical evaluations before the issuance of the respirator. An example of this type of requirement would pertain to work related to asbestos or mold abatement. In addition to proper training before working with asbestos, a medical evaluation must determine that your body can properly function while you are wearing the approved respirator. The removal of asbestos or mold is not to be taken lightly and should not be performed by an untrained, unlicensed, or uncertified contractor. This is not a project for a homeowner.
Gloves for all purposes (Rubber, latex, chemical resistant, electrical insulated, leatherwork, thermal insulated, heat resistant, Kevlar reinforced, etc.) – Gloves are a very basic and easy to find safety item. The importance of proper protection of your hands and arms cannot be overstated. There are as many types of gloves available as there are types of jobs. It is important to know the limitations and requirements of your gloves before beginning work.
Hearing protection includes equipment such as earplugs and headphones. Long-term hearing loss can be created by a sudden unexpected loud noise. It is important to plan for that possibility and provide adequate hearing protection. Long-term exposure to low levels of certain frequencies can also damage hearing. Consult online guides, job-related service manuals, and other available sources to determine the correct type of hearing protection that should be used for any job. Repeated exposure to the yard and lawn equipment can be very damaging to your ears, and even though it may occur on an infrequent basis, it is important for anyone exposed to these products to protect their ears.
Safety clothing for specialized usage. Some examples of protective clothing products and related items include Kevlar chainsaw protective chaps, gloves, boots, hard hat with face shield, etc. Chain saw users can encounter several assaults on their bodies at every usage. Hearing can be seriously affected, so headphones are essential. A hardhat is recommended to protect against the inadvertent tree branch falling from above. A face shield is suggested to protect against flying wood chips, tree limbs, and branches that may brush past a user. Safety glasses are suggested to protect against sudden projectile impacts that pass the face shield. One of the most significant and potentially lifesaving products that can be worn is products made using Kevlar fabric. This fabric, when cut with an errant chain saw chain, becomes shredded and grabs the chain, hopefully stopping the chain before cutting your body parts. It is important to wear protective boots, chaps, gloves, and vests made with Kevlar at all times during usage of a chain saw to protect all major body parts and extremities.
WorkShop / Wood Shop Protection
Face masks, goggles, dust masks, respirators, hearing protection, proper gloves for specific tasks, ventilation devices for airflow, and dust collectors are recommended. Understand the task that you are planning, and make certain to have all needed safety products and equipment before starting your project. A good first aid kit is important to have in your workshop.
Steel Toed Work Boots or Regular Work Boots are essential for working with heavy objects that can fall on your feet. Steel-toed boots have a protective reinforcement in the toe to protect your foot from falling objects, compression, or punctures. For light products, non-steel-toed shoes may be sufficient. The addition of steel in your work boots is good additional insurance against foot injuries. Steel-toed shoes are often professional requirements on most work sites. Why not add the protection of steel-toed work boots when you plan to buy your next pair of work shoes?
Proper and appropriate ladders for multipurpose use. Never use a ladder for more than its’ intended purpose. Fiberglass ladders offer non-conductivity from electrical sources, come in a variety of types and load ratings, and last for years. In most cases, they are far more durable than a wooden ladder or any aluminum ladder product. They may cost a little more, but are well worth the price in the long run, and will provide many years of safe usage if properly maintained and stored.
Ground Fault Circuit Protection
Ground fault circuit protectors for electrical outlets in water or moisture adjacent areas. While a G.F.I. (Ground fault interrupter) is an electrical code requirement in wet locations in newer construction, older homes may not have been upgraded to include these devices. Homeowners, not thinking about shock hazards, may not know if the outlet that they are connecting exterior extension cords to is grounded or protected by a G.F.C.I. (Ground fault circuit interrupter.) Unprotected circuits and outlets now connected to these electrical extension cords can lead to shock hazards or even death.
The above list of suggested safety equipment is not to be considered an exhaustive resource of information. Suggestions made in this article should offer some assistance in determining the type of products that will help to increase your safety when working around your home. The author is not responsible for any omitted or included content and urges the reader to make informed decisions and take personal responsibility to assure that they have received all the information to make informed decisions for any project. The author is not responsible for any manufacturers’ products, defects, or usage of those products. Be informed that readers of this article assume all risks associated with using safety equipment mentioned in the article.
Remember to purchase the best quality safety products that you can find. Remember the saying: If you have a ten-dollar head, get a ten-dollar helmet. The same adage applies to all safety gear. Buy the best products available, check what a tool or equipment supplier recommends, and research the proper way to use the safety equipment. If you are unsure as to whether something is safe, and you have any doubts, do not proceed with any work. Seek professional assistance and protect yourself from possible severe bodily injuries.
Sample Injuries that can occur around the Home:
Chainsaw-related injuries in many areas around the country, it is not unusual for a homeowner to own and routinely use a chain saw. From the information given to me at many chains saw supply stores, very few people choose to purchase protective garments such as Kevlar lined gloves, boots, and chaps. And, they don’t always concern themselves with the eye, ear, or head protection. When I purchased a chain saw several years ago, the local store owner was surprised and pleased that I requested and purchased all of the safety products that pertained to the usage of that saw. The usual homeowner attitude is that “I am not working professionally, so my casual usage of this chain saw will not be a problem.” With all accidents, it only takes one incident to change your life completely. The chain saw itself is only one part of a potentially serious injury. Falling tree branches can strike you on the head, scratch your face, and injure your eyes. Loud noise from the chain saw is also significant in damaging your ears and creating fatigue while working for long periods. Wearing proper Kevlar protective clothing can save your life. The steel-like threads that make up Kevlar become entangled in a chain saw chain stopping its cutting action instead of allowing the chain to cut a vital body part such as arteries in your leg, arm, or hand. Kevlar reinforced steel-toed work boots also help protect your feet from heavy objects and accidental contact with your chain saw blade.
WorkShop Related Injuries
Many homeowners enjoy the time spent in their workshops in outbuildings, garages, and basements. Workshop injuries occur for many reasons. Working without protective clothing or eye and ear protection top the list. Working for too long, becoming tired, and attempting to finish a project often create careless mistakes that lead to life-altering injuries. Overworking tools (pushing the tools to perform tasks that they are not designed to do or the over-stressing of blades and drill bits) lead to fracturing and projectile ejection. Quality safety equipment can help to limit the potential injuries from unpredictable occurrences. But, most importantly, common sense and knowing when to stop work are the most important aspect in preventing personal injury. Fresh air is also essential to assure your safety. Make sure your workspace is properly ventilated and there is adequate air exchange. Never spray paint or other finishes in an enclosed space. In addition to becoming difficult to breathe and see, sprays can become explosive if the right conditions and airborne concentrations exist.
The purpose of wearing protective products should make perfect sense to everyone. It is important that you, as the power tool user, take it upon yourself to purchase and use appropriate safety equipment. Many big box stores gladly sell potentially dangerous power tools to anyone. Normally, there is not any verification to see if the new power tool buyer has proper training, safety equipment, or enough information to use the tool safely.
While there is no law regarding regulating the purchase of most dangerous tools, even a simple hammer can create bodily injury if not used properly. It is not the responsibility of a store to enforce the usage of safety equipment, but it seems that it would be a good policy to inquire with the new tool buyer whether or not they are prepared to safely use their new tool and have proper safety equipment.
Major life-threatening injuries can result from the improper usage of power tools and even small hand tools. It is important to remember to use any necessary safety equipment that would protect you from injury while using a specific piece of equipment.
Personal safety is the responsibility of the individual. Safety information and products are available online and in trade publications and journals that offer construction-related products.
Mike has been designated by Plaintiff and Defense as construction expert witness in Jobsite injury and accident cases resulting from improper or unsafe tool usage, inappropriate safety precautions, and hazardous working conditions. He has been called upon by insurance adjusters and claims representatives to evaluate the job site conditions and assist them in determining the reason for the claim or injury. In addition, insurance claims adjusters have called upon him to help them analyze the causation of fires and floods that have resulted from incorrect usage or mishandled tools and equipment. Mike has been an invaluable part of the team representing the Plaintiff when a claim of unsafe and reckless behavior on the part of the employer was determined. He has provided his expert services in defense of claims that have limited the Defendant’s liability in other cases. His experience in the trades has allowed his evaluations to carry significant weight during mediation and arbitration hearings. The vast majority of cases where he was the retained construction expert have settled favorably for his clients. A full list of Mike Panish’s construction expert witness services is available on his website at http://www.ConstructionWitness.com.