I used to think there was nothing sexier than seeing my husband walk through the house with a toolkit and ladder, intent on finishing a home improvement project for me.
Not since I saw a report about how many home improvement projects land amateur DIYers in the emergency room. Now I like to see other men walking through my house carrying tools and a ladder because that means my husband is not at risk of losing critical body parts.
According to a new study 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.
I share this news with my husband to talk him off future ladders.
“Do those numbers include injured pride?” he wants to know.
“If it did, every neighborhood would need a MASH unit,” I said.
“In the insurance business, we get a lot of claims from accidents,” said Laura Adams, an 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 ER injury visits in the U.S., or 290,599 trips, 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).
• Lacerations led to 127,486 ER visits, followed by fractures at 35,917. Internal organ injuries accounted for 7,456 visits.
• Collectively, power tools — from workshop table saws to cordless drills — were involved in more than one-third of injuries, followed closely by manual tools (hammers, screwdrivers and other tools you don’t plug in).
Because the report also found that ER visits from DIY-related injuries had reached a 10-year high, and that spring is when home improvement projects peak, I thought this would be a good time to have a little safety chat.
What this means 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, 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 male 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, 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 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 coverages. 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 may 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 coverages.
• Check your fire extinguisher. Know where it is and be sure it’s up to date.
• Don’t work alone. We 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 has written six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home — What to Save, What to Let Go.” Reach her at marnijameson.com.