With the onset of those glorious, sun-filled fall days, many are tackling weekend home improvement projects before that winter chill sets in. But if you’re taking on DIY projects, or simply raking up a storm, be sure to properly use your tools to avoid injuring yourself.
“Never underestimate a tool even if it seems harmless,” says orthopaedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson Marc Swiontkowski, MD. “Knowing how to properly use and set up equipment can significantly reduce the possibility of injuries, that is why it is essential to follow all instructions and warnings that come along with equipment to avoid injuries at all costs.”
Some popular fall clean-up tools include ladders and rakes. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2011, approximately 523,000 people were injured from ladders and more than 35,500 treated for rake-related injuries.
Jonathan Laico, a patient from the Academy’s public awareness campaign, “A Nation in Motion,” experienced falling off a ladder at home first-hand.
“An injury usually happens when you least expect it,” said Laico. “I cannot change what happened in the past, but the experience taught me to do all that I can to reduce the risk of injury next time.”
The AAOS offers the following safety tips to help reduce injury when using some of these tools this fall:
Service equipment. Have equipment such as leaf blowers serviced before using for the first time this season.
Use a comfortable rake. Select a rake that is suitable for your height and strength. Wear leather gloves or use a rake with padded handles to prevent blisters.
Inspect the ladder. Check the ladder for any loose screws, hinges or rungs and clean off any mud or liquids that might have accumulated on the ladder.
Properly set-up the ladder. Every ladder should be placed on a firm, level surface. Never place a ladder on ground that is uneven and watch for soft, muddy spots. The same is true for uneven flooring. Remember to always engage the ladder locks or braces before climbing. If working outside, make sure the ladder – when extended – will not hit electrical wires, tree limbs or any other obstructions.
Remember the one-to-four rule: the bottom of the ladder should be one foot away from the wall for every four feet that the ladder rises. For example, if the ladder touches the wall 16 feet above the ground, the base of the ladder should be four feet from the wall. If you are going to climb onto a roof, the ladder should extend at least three feet higher than the rooftop. And, the upper and lower sections of an extension ladder should overlap to provide stability.
Avoid using ladders in adverse weather conditions. It’s unsafe to use ladders outside if there is rain, wind, snow, ice or some other factor that can increase the risk of falling.
Select the right ladder for the job. If you’re washing windows inside the home, choose a step stool or utility ladder, which are often used when working at low or medium heights. Extension ladders are ideal for use outdoors to reach high places, like when cleaning the gutters on the rooftop. The weight the ladder is supporting also should never exceed its maximum load capacity.
Move materials with caution when on the ladder. While cleaning the garage or closet, be careful when pushing or pulling items from shelves. It is easy to be thrown off-balance and fall.
Always position the ladder closer to the work. Over-reaching or leaning too far to one side can make you lose your balance and fall. Your bellybutton should not go beyond the sides of the ladder!
Wear proper footwear. Make sure your shoelaces are tied and the soles of your shoes are free of any debris or greasy, oily or wet substances. Do not wear leather-soled shoes, as they are slippery. Pant legs shouldn’t be too wide or too long.
Be careful when climbing; get help if you need it. Be safe and ask someone to hold the ladder while you climb. Stay in the center of the ladder as you ascend, and always hold the side rails with both hands. Also, make sure that only one person climbs the ladder at a time.