Holiday preparations can lead to injuries Take safety precautions when readying the house, indoors and out


November 30, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie & Randy Johnson

THIS TIME OF year, with the holidays coming up, is a high-pressure period.

It seems everybody has a long list of things to accomplish. You want to get the house decorated. You want to finish any long-term projects, such as that wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that you haven't quite found time to complete. Aunt Bess is coming for dinner and you want the books put away on your new shelves so the house will look great.

Job pressures, end-of-the-year pressures, IRS tax forms, trips to the mall. The leaves have been wet for weeks and you still can't rake. It's enough to make your head spin.

It's also enough to hurt you, if you don't pay attention when you work around the house, climbing up and down ladders or doing anything involving late hours and power tools.

If you're trying to put lights on the roof, if you're up on a ladder decorating the tree, if you're in the basement at midnight trying to saw off that requisite bottom inch of the tree trunk, and find you're tired and distracted -- stop. Give yourself permission to slow down, rest and get back to your task later. There is nothing on your schedule more important than finishing the project with all your fingers and faculties intact.

Injuries happen most frequently when you are tired or in a hurry. Deadlines are unavoidable -- so recognize the pressure and concentrate on what you are doing and quit when you get tired.

Here are some steps to take to make your holiday safer:

* If you are working with a ladder, use a safe, good-quality one. An old, patched-up wooden ladder that's been stored outside may be worth avoiding.

Don't work higher than the maximum safe height marked on the ladder. Use the proper weight rating. If it says 220 pounds maximum and you weigh 250, cut back on your holiday turkey or consider buying a ladder with a higher rating.

Don't lean out from the ladder. Go back down and move the ladder so that you can reach every spot easily. Position the ladder in a dry place so it won't slide, and use large blocks of wood (plywood is good) to level the ladder if necessary.

If you are painting, use a hook to hold the paint can so you can paint with one hand and hold on with the other.

Watch out for overhead wires outside and get someone to help you raise and lower the ladder, especially if it's a long one. It is best to get a helper to hold the bottom down with a foot so it doesn't move, while you walk the ladder down to the ground.

* If you're working with cutting tools, be sure blades are sharp. They cut better and you get fewer kickbacks -- where wood comes flying off the table saw.

Randy had to get stitches a few years ago because a chunk of wood flew off while he was using a radial arm saw to rip down some lumber. The blade was dull and the safety shields were not adjusted properly. Try to leave in place the safety guards and anti-kickback devices that came with most saws or large power tools. If you have to remove them to achieve a particular cut, put them back when you are done.

If you're working in one spot and the scraps are accumulating, take a few minutes to clean up around your feet so you're not stumbling around. Always take a moment to verify where your hands will be in relation to the cutting surface. Randy has a compound miter saw, or chop saw, where the blade is lowered onto the work from above. It would be easy to bring it down on a hand. So check the positions before you cut.

Never reach into the blade area to remove a small scrap while the blade is moving. Crazy as that sounds, we see people doing it all the time. It's clearly a dangerous urge, so resist it. If you're using a table saw or radial arm saw, use a push stick to shove the wood as your hand gets close to the blade. Don't lean over the saw -- keep your weight balanced over your feet, not over the saw.

* Keep a clean and orderly work space. Take a few minutes before you start to pick up debris and always remove exposed nails or bend them over. Last week, Randy managed to run a nail almost through his hand. He left the exposed end in a board, thinking it wouldn't matter because it would be inaccessible once the drywall was installed. It was painfully accessible while he was working on the space, however.

Follow the simple and oft-repeated safety rules. Don't wear loose clothing or dangling jewelry in the shop; those things can get caught in moving parts of tools.

* Always be careful with extension cords. Don't use cords that are frayed or have broken plugs. Always use a larger extension cord than the tool requires, and plug it into a grounded outlet. If you are working outside, plug the cord into a ground fault interrupter receptacle.

* Take care of your body. Weekend carpenters have more problems with strains and sprains because they don't lift and tug every day. Stretch before you start work so that you don't pull muscles that will still be sore when you go back to the office on Monday.

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