The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 9, 2012

Home improvement accidents hit thousands every year

Point Blank

By John Blankenship

— Did you know that 13 million serious injuries and 55,000 accidental deaths occur every year due to home improvement accidents? When it comes to a home improvement project it is important to evaluate all steps in the process and avoid hazards you may encounter along the way.

Take falling for instance. A fall from as little as 3 feet can result in serious injury or even death. Unintentional falls are the leading cause of injury in the home.

What is more, during the last decade, electrical injury has been responsible for an average of 320 deaths and more than 4,000 injuries. Always assume an electrical circuit is live until you turn off the power.

At the same time, about 125,000 serious injuries due to power tools occur annually and 90 percent of the injuries are lacerations.

And like most of us amateur carpenter enthusiasts, whenever you have a few days off from work, you probably get the urge to do some home repair work. And whether it’s home repair work out of interest or necessity, it doesn’t matter. It could cost you more money in the long run-especially if you are accident prone or careless with power tools. That’s the word from emergency rooms all around the country.

Some jobs start out as a home-improvement or repair project. But an increasing number of them end in disaster for the persons doing them.

Take the fellow, for instance, who decided at the last minute to do his own roofing work.

He got too close to the edge and toppled off the two-story house. His hip injury laid him up for two months.

Or the guy who decided he’d save a few bucks by painting his two-car garage. He slipped off the ladder and broke his arm, spilling a gallon of paint in the process.

Extreme as these stories are, they have a familiar ring to them, especially to those of us who occasionally rent power equipment.

The past decade has seen a steady growth in the world of home improvement projects. The would-be home repairmen and remodel enthusiasts have taken center stage.

Purchases of home-repair and renovation materials are expected to reach more than $150 billion this year, the bulk of it being spent by do-it-yourselfers rather than contractors and other professionals.

And it is nearly impossible to find licensed contractors and other professionals with the time to take on smaller projects. “It’s often difficult to get a painter, a tile layer or even someone to do yard work,” one local equipment rental store manager explained. “Regular home owners are trying to do things they’ve never done before.”

Increasingly, do-it-yourselfers are taking on projects that transcend the tamer chores of mowing the lawn or touching up trim. Some are tackling major jobs with powerful tools, such as industrial quality power saws, sanders, nail guns, high-torque drills and even jackhammers.

Too often, the pros say, the most dangerous tool in the box is an abundance of confidence.

Missing are skills and some common sense, according to those people in the area who rent tools and equipment to building contractors.

You can see the picture in your mind’s eye. An increasing number of weekend warriors show up on Saturdays. Their biggest reason for doing a job themselves appears to be that they are just trying to save money.

Rental company staff members, however, emphasize safety with all rental machinery.  Even so, there are home-repair horror stories.

Each year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission surveys hospitals to learn how people wind up in the nation’s emergency rooms.

Though the data doesn’t track all casualties of the home-improvement wars, what is available offers evidence of significant mayhem.

Just last year, some 150,000 people were injured in accidents related to ladders in their homes, and nearly 100,000 sought treatment for saw-related injuries.

Hammers claimed 42,500 victims. Another 10,000 suffered screwdriver-related wounds that were presumably self-inflicted.

How many have died from their injuries cannot be determined from the numbers the government keeps.

At another local rental shop, the manager tells a medley of tales about do-it-yourselfers whose miscues were more comic than tragic:

“One fellow came in to rent a sander but didn’t know what kind he needed. I asked him what he was going to do with it. He said he was going to sand his floors. I stopped him before he headed out with the wrong sander, one that could have chewed his floors into sawdust.”

Another guy tried to use a concrete saw as a wood saw. “All it did was burn the wood,” he said.


Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: