Property: Doctor on the house - Don't try this at home? We do it all the time

We wouldn't do dangerous stunts for an employer so why balance on shaky ladders to attempt DIY? asks Jeff Howell
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The Independent Online
ACCIDENTS, by definition, are unexpected events, but in building and DIY there is usually a fairly obvious risk factor involved. If you pick up a brick, for example, there is a chance that you may drop it on your foot. If you are sawing timber, you may slip and cut your finger. If you lay a patch of concrete in the garden, a cat will always leave its paw prints in it.

But most people ignore these probabilities and have a very casual attitude to safety: until an accident actually happens, they assume it won't. But I think you should always ask yourself the question: would I accept this risk if an employer asked me to? If the answer is no then don't chance it on your own account either.

Last week I discussed the inadvisability of working from ladders. Painting windows and cleaning out gutters are often done from ladders, involving very real risks. But scaffolding towers can be hired from around pounds 40 a day or pounds 50 for a weekend, which seems a small price to pay for your life. By using a tower you can concentrate on the task in hand rather than on your precarious foothold, and thus do a much more thorough and effective job.

In the home, falling off chairs and stepladders accounts for many accidents. The first thing to ask yourself is whether you need to stand on anything at all - you can paint a ceiling from floor level, for example, by sticking the handle of the roller on to the end of a broomstick.

Before you start balancing on chairs, consider the old plasterers' trick of a scaffold plank between two milk crates: it is always better to work from a board than a stepladder, as you can move along it without having to lean away from it or look down to check the position of your feet. If you must use a stepladder, try to lean it up against a wall rather than have it free-standing in the middle of the room.

Eye injuries can be painful and disabling, and eye protection should be used if there is any risk from flying particles. Some safety goggles scratch easily and mist up, which can restrict your vision - the joke in the trade is that you wear the goggles to protect your eyes, and then hit your thumb with the hammer because you can't see. Plastic safety glasses are better as they give a clearer view and are less prone to misting up.

I do not always use eye protection when drilling or hammering, but I always use it for disc cutting and grinding, and when working above my head, even if the job is simply painting a ceiling. Bethnal Green Eddie had a close shave with a lump of lime in his eye while he was plastering a ceiling a couple of years back, so I now treat lime with a lot more respect.

But accidents are often caused simply by using the wrong tools. For example, to cut holes through brickwork you need a cold chisel and lump hammer. If you use a carpenter's claw hammer it will tend to glance off the chisel and hit your knuckles. Also, because a claw hammer is so much lighter than a lump hammer, you will have to make three times as many blows with it, each one of which could hurt you.

Buying the right tool is like investing in scaffolding - it will pay for itself in the long run, and could even save your life.

q You can contact Jeff Howell at the `Independent on Sunday' or by e-mail on: Jeff@doctoronthehouse.demon.co.uk.

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