DIY needs special care at any time. But for seniors it’s something that needs even more consideration and preparation. Many are perfectly capable of doing everything they did when they were younger, of course, but others might well find some physical tasks much harder, due to problems with co-ordination, strength and balance. It can be dangerous: a total of 7,000 DIY accidents were reported among seniors in 1999, and people over 65 accounted for 39% of serious DIY accidents.
According to DTI statistics, more than 12,000 people a year end up in A&E because of accidents on ladders, and more people are killed annually using them than any other form of DIY equipment (35 in 1995). So if you’re not certain of your balance, the safest thing is to keep your feet on the ground and have someone else do the work. But if you decide to use a ladder, inspect the rungs first to make sure they’re solid. As you raise it, keep both its legs firm on a level surface for stability (use a board if necessary), and the ladder angled properly (one yard out for each four yards up), since ladders slipping out of position are the most common cause of accidents. Before you climb, make sure there are no wires that could electrocute you, and that the ground below is clear in case of a fall. Never overreach when you’re working on a ladder, and don’t work from the top two rungs. Take care not to lean it against anything breakable, such as plastic guttering; it can shatter and leave you one of the 2,300 people each year who suffer head injuries from using a ladder.
Stepladders might seem safer, but they’re not. It should always rest on the ground (never put it on anything else for extra height), and the hinge between the two legs should be fully extended. If you’re a woman, never climb a stepladder wearing heels – flat shoes only – and don’t over-extend.
If you’re decorating or changing a light bulb, don’t be tempted to simply stand on a chair. It might not seem high, but there are several instances of people dying from falls off chairs. Use a stepladder instead.
Power tools, especially saws, need plenty of concentration. They were responsible for 4,200 injuries in 1999, with more than 50% of those coming from circular saws alone. If you’re using power tools, wear a tight-fitting shirt or, in colder weather, a sweatshirt, since wire wheels and drill bits can catch a loose garments, they can then wind the material up around your hand or arm, locking it to the drill until it is stopped. Never use a trigger lock on a power tool; if you catch your clothing or part of the vehicle this could result in a serious injury with the drill locked in the “on” position.
With power tools, always wear eye protection; enclosing plastic goggles are best, and it’s easy to find a pair that will fit over spectacles – more than one in eight DIY accidents is because of an object in the eye. For any type of sawing or grinding, wear a disposable dust mask. They’re cheap and keep sawdust and particles out of your throat and lungs.
It’s worthwhile investing in several pairs of thin latex rubber gloves. Not only will they protect your hands from contaminants, they’ll also give you a better grip when you’re working with oily, greasy parts. Use them with all solvents when you’re preparing a surface to be painted and when you paint (they’re also excellent for keeping your hands dirt-free in the garden).
Keep a first aid kit and fire extinguisher nearby. This can make the difference between a minor scrape and a much bigger problem. If you live alone and you’re attempting a job, consider “the buddy system.” In addition to being a good safety practice, bear in mind that your “buddy” might be able to offer advice and help if you need it partway through the job. Keep a phone close at hand as you work.
Know what you cannot do and what you shouldn’t touch. If you have no experience with electricity, for example, don’t try and fix the wiring in your house. Jobs like that should be left to professionals unless you have extensive experience. It is important not to dive right into a project especially when you don’t know what you’re doing. Get some experienced help and advice before you begin. In short, do your research first.
Work with clean parts and good lighting. You can’t fix what you can’t see. A break-resistant fluorescent droplight (the type used by mechanics) is one of the most-used tools in a DIY toolbox.
If you want to use a spray paint on something, always do it outside, so you don’t breathe in the vapours.