When you start a home improvement project, it's a good idea to take some precautions that will keep any mess and disturbance to a minimum. Be prepared before you start any work and remember, safety comes first.
Tools & materials required
You'll probably think of moving your furniture and possessions and laying dust sheets in a room before starting a home improvement project. However, we don't always spend enough time to consider how to protect our wellbeing, or that of family and pets, before getting started on the task.
Always bear in mind that home improvement projects are almost always messy, often noisy - and sometimes dangerous. So take some time to weigh up the possible risks. Protect yourself and, if necessary, those around you, and think whether your activities may disturb others too.
Read all the instructions and make sure you understand them fully. Check you have all the necessary tools and materials to hand. Consider any heights or weights you might have to deal with, and ask yourself a few questions;
- Will you need someone else to help?
- How long will it take, and will a room in the house be uninhabitable while you're working there?
- What are the possible consequences of the work you're planning?
If you're in any doubt about your capabilities, call in a professional to do the whole job or just the parts you're not sure about.
Whilst it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when planning a home improvement project, choosing the right clothing is an important consideration. You might be in a hurry to get started, but it is worth changing into some old clothes first and deciding whether you will need any specialist equipment.
At B&Q we have a wide range of workwear and safety equipment that will help to keep you safe and comfortable at work.
For most DIY tasks around the home, it's best to opt for old, reasonably close-fitting clothing. This reduces the risk of your clothes getting caught in any tools or machinery you are using, or dragging in paint or cleaning materials. If you're looking for hard-wearing clothing you can wear again and again, consider purpose-designed workwear, or overalls you can wear over your regular clothing.
Consider sturdy safety boots or shoes with toe-cap reinforcement. These will protect your feet when you're handling heavy materials like bricks or stone slabs, as well as plasterboard, wooden sheets or large sections of timber. It's also wise to wear rubber-soled shoes when you're working on electrical installations.
Whether you're decorating, cleaning, woodworking or working on your car, the chances are your hands will get dirty. Choosing the right pair of gloves will help to protect your hands, especially if moving heavy materials like timber and paving slabs. We have a wide range of gloves suitable for many household and construction tasks.
If you're working on repetitive tasks, such as fixing with nails and screws, try using a tool belt to keep your most useful and easily mislaid tools close to hand. They're ideal for holding tape measures, hammers and often drills as well as nails, screws and fixings.
Impact-resistant safety glasses or goggles are a must if working on tasks that will create dust and debris, in particular if you are using power tools. If you do get anything in your eye, rinse with cold water and consult a doctor, if concerned.
Always protect your hearing if you are using power tools. Even if the noise isn't loud enough to damage your ears, you'll find yourself becoming tired more quickly. Ear defenders will reduce the impact, but remember to be extra-careful while wearing them.
A hard hat is a must when there's any danger of bumping your head or from falling objects. If you find a hard hat cumbersome, get a bump cap (it looks like an oversize baseball cap), which will give you some protection from a knock.
Protect your lungs from dust as well as from invisible fumes. Different masks are designed to provide different degrees and types of protection - from a simple gauze that screens out fine particles to a full facial respirator that isolates you from poisonous fumes. Don't forget that simple tasks such as sanding and using many power tools will create dust and debris - make sure that you are protected.
If you're laying flooring or tiles, invest in a pair of good-quality knee pads. This will reduce the impact on your knees and make this a less painful task.
What not to wear
- Any loose clothing or jewellery. This might get caught by a tool, or snag on a ladder or workbench.
- Anything that restricts your movement.
- Very woolly sweaters when you're decorating - the loose fibres will stick to the paint surface leaving an uneven finish.
- Good lighting makes a task easier. Make sure you can see your work clearly as poor lighting is hazardous and tiring.
- Have a mobile phone with you whenever you're working alone, in case of an accident.
- Keep a first aid kit to hand, containing essentials to help you deal with any minor injuries. Consider taking a first aid course to equip yourself with the skills to treat yourself or anyone else in case of an accident.
- Beware of fatigue. You'll need to concentrate and not rush, especially if you're working with electricity, using power tools or beginning any new and costly job. Make sure you take frequent breaks.
The importance of keeping tidy
Try to clean your tools and keep your work area tidy as you go along. You'll find that paint, adhesive and mortar will be much harder (and in some cases impossible) to clean off when they've dried. Make sure you put away sharp tools like saws and chisels carefully after use, otherwise the edges can become blunt.
Remember that anything you leave lying around is a potential hazard. Always put back the safety guards on your power tools, and be especially careful if you're working with toxic substances. Follow manufacturer's instructions to the letter, and never put substances into containers that aren't clearly labelled.
Safety of family and pets
If you're going to make a lot of noise and mess, do take your family and pets into account. Keep them well clear of wet paint or cement until it's fully dry. Seal off the work area if you can, and make certain that all tools and materials are out of reach of children.
Be a good neighbour
Late-night drilling and hammering may get the job done more quickly, but they could ruin your relationship with those around you. Be aware of the regulations about nuisance noise, and if you're in doubt about your rights, contact your local Environmental Health Department.
Before you start a large project, take time to consider what you'll be doing with any waste or rubbish you produce. Domestic rubbish collection may be unsuitable for many items, therefore consider how you will store and transport any waste to your local waste recycling centre. Hiring a hippo bag or skip may be ideal for some projects, but think carefully about where this will placed and whether it will impact on others. Keep children and pets away from rubbish to avoid injuries from slips, trips and falls as well as sharp or hazardous materials.
Many items, from leftover paint to copper pipe, can now be recycled preventing valuable metals and harmful chemicals being put into landfill.
Using ladders safely
Ladders are one of the most common causes of accidents during home improvement activities - make sure you stay safe by following these guidelines.
Choose the right ladder
Start off on the right foot by matching the type of ladder to the job in hand.
For detailed advice, read our Ladders buying guide
Get a firm footing
Always inspect the surface on which your ladder will stand. If it's not level or firm, lay down a sturdy piece of board with a length of batten nailed in place to act as a stop, or find a ready-made ladder safety foot. If you can, use ladder stabilisers too. Otherwise, drive stakes into the ground on either side of the feet and attach the ladder to them. On hard ground, lay a heavy sandbag over the bottom rung to stop your ladder from slipping. Finally, if you're in doubt, find a helper to stand on the bottom rung and hold on to the sides.
When you're climbing
Climb your ladder by holding the rungs, not the ladder sides. And don't press against the ladder. Instead, climb with your arms straight and your body upright. Use the top four rungs of your ladder as handholds only.
- Wear thick-soled flat footwear, particularly if you'll be standing on one rung for long periods. You can fit a hook-on foot platform to stand on, if you prefer. Also, it's a good idea to make sure your shoelaces are securely tied and that your shoes are free of mud or grease - so you won't trip or slip.
- Wear a helmet - but not loose clothing that might get snagged on the way up or down
- Go slow - never rush when you're working at height
- Don't climb the ladder with your hands full - use a tool belt, apron or shoulder bag. Haul up materials in a bucket or on a rope.
- Don't lean sideways or backwards from your ladder. Keep your centre of gravity inside the stiles. And keep both feet on the rungs - not one foot on the wall.
- Don't use a ladder in high winds, or when it's raining
- Always hold on to a rung with one hand when working
- Use cordless power tools wherever possible
- Never leave a ladder unattended
Keeping ladders secure
- Always store ladders and stepladders under cover, particularly if they're made of wood
- Store stepladders standing against the wall, not suspended by a rung
- Hang ladders horizontally on strong brackets
- If you have to store a ladder outdoors or in a view, make sure it's securely chained and padlocked to a well-fixed bracket. Don't give a leg-up to a thief.
- Never paint a wooden ladder - you may be hiding dangerous defects. Always use clear varnish or clear wood preservative instead. Be wary of buying or even borrowing a painted ladder, as the paint might be covering up some serious faults.
Asbestos in your home
The mineral asbestos was widely used in building materials from the 1930s through to the mid-1980s, and particularly from the 1960s onwards.
It added rigidity and fire-resistance to material for the home, including gutters and downpipes, fire blankets, floor tiles, garage and shed roofs, linings for walls, ceilings and doors, insulation panels in some storage heaters, bath panels, central heating flues, and loose packing used between floors and in partition walls.
Undisturbed asbestos usually poses no problems. But the fibres and dust from damaged asbestos materials are potentially very dangerous if they're inhaled in higher concentrations over a period of time - when they can cause serious lung diseases. The symptoms of these diseases often don't appear until 20-30 years after exposure.
Great care must be taken to prevent these fibres being released.
If you think you may have asbestos in your home;
- Leave it alone: asbestos is safe unless it's damaged or disturbed.
- Avoid creating or breathing asbestos dust. Never sand, drill or saw asbestos materials.
- Don't try to remove asbestos lagging, spray coatings or insulation board yourself.
Visit www.direct.gov.uk or contact your local authority, who can give you advice and carry out an inspection.
Never remove or replace asbestos yourself. You must hire a registered specialist who will be able to safely remove these materials and dispose of them appropriately.