I used to think there was nothing sexier than seeing my husband walk through the house with a toolkit and ladder on his way to do a home improvement project for me. Not anymore.
Not since I saw a report about how many home improvement projects land amateur do-it-yourselers in the emergency room. Now I like to see other men walking through my house carrying tools and a ladder doing a home project for me because that means DC is not at risk of losing any critical body parts.
According to the new study, out this week from Clearsurance, an online platform that helps consumers shop for and compare insurance plans, home improvement injuries resulted in nearly 300,000 trips to the emergency room in 2020, the year the report used as a basis. That is a record high.
“In the insurance business, we get a lot of claims from accidents,” said Laura Adams, an insurance analyst for Clearsurance. “Keeping people safe helps prevent claims and injuries,” she said of the company’s motive behind the report. “We wanted to remind them to be careful.”
Here are more of the report’s findings, which are based on figures from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:
Home improvement injuries accounted for 3% of all ER injury visits in the United States, or 290,599 trips to the emergency room in 2020; 8% of those patients were injured seriously enough to be admitted.
Fingers were by far the most injured body part (117,026), followed by hands (37,308) and eyeballs (34,827). Youch! The neck was the least commonly injured body part. I assume that’s because spouses wringing each other’s necks falls into another category.
Lacerations led to 127,486 ER visits, followed by fractures at 35,917. Most baffling, internal organ injuries accounted for 7,456 visits. What happened there?
Collectively, power tools — from workshop table saws to cordless drills — were involved in more than one-third of all injuries, followed closely by manual tools (hammers, screwdrivers and other tools you don’t plug in).
Since the report also found that total ER visits from DIY-related injuries had reached a 10-year high, and that spring, as in right now, is when home improvement projects peak, I thought this would be a good time to have a little safety chat.
What all this boils down to is this: You want the sense to take on the home improvements and repairs you should do yourself, the humility to hire someone else when you should, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Here’s a clue. Before you tackle a project on your own, answer this question:
Injuries (and other bad outcomes) happen when a) we do something we’re not qualified to do, b) we don’t have the right equipment or protective gear, c) we are being cheap, d) all of the above.
You know the answer. To avoid becoming part of the next report’s statistics, here’s what Adams recommends:
◼️ Know your limits. This is humbling, especially for those who deal with (or have) a strong ego, but be realistic. In other words, go ahead and paint the bookcase, but if the project involves working on a metal extension ladder, outside, in the rain, with power tools, consider calling a licensed professional.
◼️ Get a quote. Before deciding to do the job on your own, get a quote first just for comparison. “It may be less than you think, and worth the price in the long run,” Adams said. Have you priced the cost of an ER visit lately?
◼️ Get the right tools. Don’t use a bread knife in place of a handsaw. The cost of the right tools might pay for a handyman who already has the right tools (and knows how to use them). If you do forge ahead, read the instructions first. Duh.
◼️ Dress for the job. Wear safety goggles. Wear sturdy shoes that cover your whole foot in case you step on a nail or drop a can of paint on your toe. Don’t wear anything that could get caught in equipment, such as drawstrings, fringy shirts, dangling sleeves or cords around your neck.
◼️ Confirm your coverage. In the event you or someone helping you gets hurt, you will want to have current health insurance for you, and homeowner’s insurance, which could kick in to cover others. When you hire professionals, ask to see a copy of their certificate of insurance to verify that they have worker’s comp and liability coverage.
◼️ Check your fire extinguisher. Know where it is and be sure it’s up to date.
◼️ Don’t work alone. We all know the type, Adams said. Those most likely to get in trouble are the independent types who tend to tackle projects alone. However, having someone around in case you need a hand or have an accident could literally be lifesaving.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want.”