Five safety tips for DIY projects
Without taking proper precautions, the enjoyment of a do-it-yourself project can quickly turn into a disaster. You may have all the latest power tools, hand tools, hardware and materials, but if you don’t put safety first, you may end up with a trip to the hospital instead of a new set of shelves, upgraded lighting in the kitchen or a trendy shiplap accent wall in the bedroom. Here are some fundamental workshop and electrical safety tips to keep things running smoothly.
1.Wear safety gear, glasses and gloves
The first rule of safety is to dress appropriately. Avoid loose clothing that can get caught in power tools and never wear dangling jewelry or scarves. Roll up your sleeves or choose ones that are tight against your skin. Closed-toe shoes are a must, and steel-toed boots are recommended.
Safety glasses are necessary 100 percent of the time, and ear protection may also be applicable depending on the project. Gloves are fine for handling materials, but before you reach for a belt sander or scroll saw, take the gloves off to minimize the risk of them getting caught. You also get tactile feedback in case anything goes wrong.
2. Observe electrical safety
Before you start any DIY project, inspect all your power tools and their cords for loose plugs, exposed wires or worn insulation. Fires are one of the top dangers when working with electric gear, especially if you have combustible materials around, such as sawdust or paint. If you must use an extension cord, choose one long, heavy-duty (appropriately rated) cord and keep it untangled and out of the way to prevent tripping. When done working, unplug everything from the extension cord and put it away.
3. Keep your work space clean
Anything left on the floor is a tripping hazard, and you do not want to imagine what could happen if you trip while using a power tool. The byproducts of do-it-yourself work, such as sawdust, cast-off nails and screws and rags or brushes with potentially combustible or hazardous fluids on them, increase the risk of fires and projectiles.
4. Keep tools in good condition
Besides inspecting the cords and plugs for electrical safety, everything works better if you have clean, sharp and well-lubricated tools. A dull saw blade brings a much higher chance of injury than a sharp one as it is less likely to cut smoothly through the wood or other material and more likely to kick back and cut you. Dull saws, routers or drill bits also run the risk of breaking during use. Use appropriate lubrication, such as WD-40 or others specifically created for power tools.
5. Know your limits
If you have a lot of experience as a do-it-yourselfer, there are projects you can tackle from memory. However, for maximum safety, approach anything new as if you are a beginner. Read instructions, look up reputable guide videos to refresh your skills or learn something new, and, most importantly, recognize when you are in over your head and leave those non-DIY projects to the professionals.
Fake chargers are dangerous
Looking for a way to save money when purchasing electronics? Well, if you bought a mobile phone charger from a vendor other than a trusted third party dealer, the official Apple website or an android smartphone company, then you might have a counterfeit power adapter that does not meet minimum safety standards. Legitimate chargers cost $20 to $25 apiece while fakes can cost less than $5.
Counterfeit adapters are not designed or manufactured to meet industry safety standards, and lack the safety features necessary to protect users from shock and fire hazards. Some knockoff chargers don’t have proper insulation, potentially exposing users to overheating, fire or electric shock. Within the past few years, several incidents related to shock or electrocution (involving cell phones) have been reported.
Common problems with fakes include counterfeit plugs, non-sleeved plugs where the metal pins are exposed, live parts, two pin plugs attached and only basic insulation. While some counterfeit iPhone adapters can closely resemble the genuine product, there are often indicators that consumers can use to spot a fake, such as:
- A genuine iPhone charger comprises two products – a power adapter for the wall, plus a USB cable to connect it to your phone. Android chargers are all different but should be marked with the logo of the phone company.
- The absence of a certification mark, such as UL (Underwriters Laboratories) mark. This should sit between the two bottom pins on the underside of the charger. This mark can easily be forged, but there is still a difference: the text on imitations are dark gray as opposed to the light gray on real iPhone chargers.
- Check for the CE safety marking and look for the manufacturer’s brand name or logo, model and batch number.
- Legitimate chargers usually weigh more than their fake counterparts due to the higher number of components.
- USB socket may be upside down.
- The authentic iPhone charger comes with various essential instructions. These include information on electrical safety and directions on how to safely use them. If any of these are missing, then you may be dealing with a fake.
- The pins on a real charger will have a matte finish, with a consistent color and a uniform square appearance. A gloss or shiny finish, and/or irregularities in the size or shape are possible signs of a counterfeit product.
The best way to ensure you get the real deal is to buy from a reputable dealer – you may end up paying a little bit more, but you will have a peace of mind knowing it will be safe.
Stay safe when using space heaters
With the cooler weather slipping in, we’re all looking for a way to keep warm, making space heaters popular this time of year. Unfortunately, space heaters are a common cause of house fires, resulting in more than 25,000 residential fires each year, according to The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Before you get yours plugged-in, take time to review these important safety tips.
Always read and follow the instructions for its operation and maintenance. The heater should be placed on a level, hard, nonflammable surface at least 3 feet away from drapes, furniture or other flammable items and in an area out of reach of children and pets or where people might trip over or bump into it.
Be sure to check the cords of older space heaters, and do not use them if they are cracked or frayed. Remember to keep electric cords out of high-traffic areas, including doorways and walkways, where they can be a tripping hazard. Also, to prevent electrical shocks and electrocutions, always keep heaters away from areas with water, such as bathrooms and kitchens, and never touch a heater if you are wet.
When buying a space heater, only consider purchasing those that are Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) approved. Choose a unit that is the correct wattage for the area you want to heat with a 10-to-1 ratio of wattage to square feet. Look for a heater that has a timer or is controlled thermostatically to avoid over heating a room, as well as both a tip-over switch, which shuts off the heater if it is knocked over, and an automatic shutoff, which turns the heater off if it gets too hot.
Always remember to turn the heater off when you are not in the room, sleeping or leaving your home. Keep your family safe by following the above precautions.
Protect your pet from electrical hazards
For many, pets are like members of the family, providing an indescribable companionship for owners. Two-thirds (67 percent) of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own at least one pet, according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey, conducted by the American Pet Products Association. Regardless of how large or small a pet may be, there are always potential electrical hazards around the corner.
Here are a few safety tips to help you protect your pets from electrical hazards throughout the house:
- Discourage pets from sleeping near or behind electronics. Many pets are attracted to the warmth, but this is a potential fire hazard.
- Make sure plugs are completely plugged into an outlet. If not plugged in correctly, curious pets can get shocked.
- Cover cords with cable jackets or PVC pipe in order to prevent pets from playing with or chewing on cords. Wind up excess cords and hide from view.
- Coat cords with a bitter substance to make them undesirable to pets. Appropriate and safe products can be purchased online or at pet stores.
- Unplug all appliances not in use to cut electric current.
- Continuously check cords for fraying or bite marks.
- Place cords out of pet’s reach, whether hanging off the floor or behind furniture.
- Provide your pet with new and different chew toys so electrical cords do not become a dangerous replacement.
- Make sure cords attached to an aquarium have a drip loop—cords that slack below the outlet—to make sure water does not run into the outlet.
- Watch your pet around dangling or sagging cords, including phone or tablet charging cables. Unplug charging cables once your devices are charged. Not only do they draw a small amount of energy when not in use, but the dangling cords are just crying to be played with.
- Don’t skimp when buying power cords, extension cords or anything else that you use for your electronics. Cheaper quality cords are much more likely to create sparks or overheat.
- Be careful where you place lamps and other plugged-in items. Lamps can be a fire hazard if they are knocked over, especially if they have halogen bulbs.
- Do not leave your pet alone around items that get hot: curling irons and straighteners, an outdoor grill, a portable heater and other electric appliances, including cooktops.
- If a pet should receive a shock, never touch the animal until you know it is away from the power source or the electric current is shut off in order to prevent injury to yourself. Once it is clear to approach the pet, give it medical treatment immediately.
Taking the time to make sure your home is safe for your pet will help ensure your friend will be around to bring happiness into your life for years to come.
Electrical safety in the workplace
Electrical safety should be treated as a priority in every workplace. Electricity is a powerful force which can seriously injure and in the worst cases, be fatal. Here are some common electrical hazards in the workplace and safety tips that can help avoid accidents:
• Be vigilant about power line locations if you are doing work outdoors, operating machinery, driving a truck that has hydraulic beds or lifts (dump truck), or arms/extensions (garbage truck, concrete truck), to name a few, and always use a spotter. Contact with a power line can kill! If your truck, tractor or equipment does come in contact with a line while you are inside it, DO NOT get out. Call 9-1-1 and wait for the power to be de-energized so you can safely exit.
• Working with portable power tools presents inherent electrical risks. Defective tools, improper connections or misuse of tools greatly increases a worker’s chance of electrical injury. Never carry a tool by the cord or yank the cord to disconnect it from the receptacle. Keep cords away from heat, oil and sharp edges and disconnect them when not in use. Use gloves and appropriate safety footwear when using electric tools. Store electric tools in a dry place when not in use and do not use them in damp or wet locations unless they’re approved for that purpose.
• Office workers can also be exposed to electrical hazards. Ungrounded equipment, overloaded circuits, defective or damaged power or extension cords, poor placement of extension cords, space heaters and exposed live parts are just a few hazards that can be found in the workplace.
• Be careful when working around water. Water and electricity don’t mix and it greatly increases the chance of shock. Keep all electrical equipment away from standing water or damp conditions (indoors or outdoors) and do not operate equipment with wet hands. Make sure any outlet that is near a water source (and all outdoor outlets) are GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) protected.
Accidents unfortunately do occur, and they can have deadly and tragic consequences that extend far beyond the job site. A climate of safety awareness and knowledge must be created in the workplace in order to help prevent misfortunes.
Talk to your children about electrical safety
Children often do not understand the danger of electricity and electrical equipment. In their innocent and imaginative minds, what can be potentially dangerous may go unnoticed or even appear enticing and fun. Take an opportunity to point out overhead power lines and any other electrical equipment to children and explain what they are.
Safe Electricity recommends teaching children to follow these rules:
- Never climb trees near power lines. Even if the power lines are not touching the tree, they could touch when more weight is added to the branch.
- Kites and model airplanes should be flown only during good weather conditions in large open areas, like an open park or a wide field. Keep kites away from overhead power lines or other electrical equipment, such as substations. If a kite gets stuck in a tree near power lines, do not climb up to get it. Electricity can travel down kite strings or wires. Contact your electric utility for assistance.
- Never climb a utility pole or tower. The electricity carried through this equipment is high voltage and could kill you.
- Don’t play on or around pad-mounted electrical equipment. These are often green metal “boxes” on cement pads and contain transformers.
- Never go into an electric substation. Electric substations contain high-voltage equipment; even raising your hand inside one can cause an arc that may cause an electric shock. Never attempt to retrieve a pet, ball, or any toy from these areas. Call your electric utility instead.
- Immediately seek shelter if lightning or thunder is present while playing outdoors.
- When designing a tree house or outdoor play area for children, take preventive precautions before starting your project. Do not install playground equipment or swimming pools underneath or near power lines. Installation of either will require digging; call your local underground utility locating service to have buried lines marked, so you can avoid serious injury and damage.
Protect all family members from serious shock and injuries by installing ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on outdoor outlets and in interior rooms where water is present. A GFCI shuts off power instantly if it detects a problem. Use portable GFCIs for outdoor outlets that don’t have them. GFCIs are affordably priced and found at hardware stores.
Be careful using electrical appliances outdoors, even if plugged into GFCI-equipped outlets. Never use appliances with frayed or damaged extension cords and always be sure the ground prong is intact.
Teach kids never touch an electric appliance while in a pool or hot tub, to keep all electrical appliances at least ten feet away from pools, ponds, and wet surfaces, and that it is never safe to swim in a pool or lake when a storm is brewing.
Teach older children to exercise caution before plugging in a radio, CD player, or any electrical gadget outdoors and never leave any electrical appliance outside. If it rains, the device could get wet and cause an electrical shock when used later.
Flooded areas are never safe spots to wade or play in, and if there has been severe weather, may be in contact with energized electrical equipment or fallen power lines left behind.
Make sure your family members know to stay away from downed power lines and wires and tell children to report any fallen or dangling wires to an adult. Downed power lines are dangerous; always assume any power line is energized and stay far away. Call your local utility immediately if you or your child encounters a downed power line and include this number with other posted emergency phone numbers.
Many times it seems as though the chargers that came with your phone, digital camera or other electronics seem to disappear as often as a sock mate. As a solution, many people reach for the low-cost, generic plug-in USB chargers and charging cables found in the sea of impulse items that flank the check-out line at your favorite drug, convenience or big-box store. They’re also popular items on numerous online shopping sites and cheaper than dishing out money to replace them with their original maker’s versions.
But inexpensive charging components may be one area you don’t want to cut corners and for a variety of reasons. Amazon recalled 26,000 AmazonBasics portable lithium-ion battery chargers and power banks after the massive online retailer learned the units could overheat and ignite, causing fire and burn hazards. According to the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission, the products were sold between December 2014 and July 2017.
Along with being a potential fire hazard, using cheaply made charging components and devices can also cause electrocution. Dangers aside, they may cost you more in the long run since they can cause damage to whatever’s on the other end of the cable. To stay safe around electrical devices and charging gear, Safe Electricity recommends the following:
- Do not leave items that are charging unattended.
- Always keep charging items away from flammable objects, especially bedding, and do not take them to bed with you. Tell kids and teens to NEVER place any charging device under their pillow. The heat generated cannot dissipate and the charger will become hotter and hotter. This could lead to the pillow or bed catching fire.
- Do not touch charging electronic devices with wet hands or while standing in water.
- Make sure charging components are certified by a reputable third-party testing laboratory.
- Only buy product-approved chargers and cables (those made or certified by the manufacturer). Using cheaper devices can cause damage to the USB charge chip. Although it’s tempting to save money, this can have a lasting impact on how quickly and effectively your device charges in the future.
The bottom line is this: Don’t buy charging equipment with prices that seem too good to be true or from companies you’ve never heard of. And even if you’ve heard of the company, be leery of fakes. In 2016, Apple sued a company that sold counterfeit wall chargers with Apple’s name on them for less than $10 each. Say no to cheap chargers!
Tackle Home Projects Safely
If there’s one thing we know in Alabama, it’s football. As you cheer on our favorite teams each Saturday and relish the tackles and amazing plays, don’t forget to keep safety front and center when tackling a do-it-yourself project to avoid injury while getting game-winning results.
Score points with safety equipment
Just like a helmet and pads are required on a football field, safety items are essential for DIY tasks. Read and follow directions on every power tool you use. Wearing eye and ear protection and gloves, as well as tying back loose hair and securing loose clothing, are all important for your safety. If renting a tool, ask the store for safety tips.
Look up, down, and all around
For outside projects, first check the area where you will be working. Identify potential hazards and take time to avoid or correct any problems. Don’t forget to look up for power lines, and avoid using long poles or ladders within 10 ft. of overhead wires.
Will your project involve any digging? Before starting your project, call 811 before you dig even if you think you know where underground lines may be. The 811 service will mark all underground lines in your area for free before you start work.
Avoid the blitz
Water and electricity don’t mix, so avoid running cords through wet areas. Inspect cords for fraying or damage before use, and be sure outlets can handle any extra load from power tools. Overloading outlets can lead to more than a shock: fire hazards may result from demanding too much from an electrical system.
Be honest with yourself
If a job seems like it might be too much to handle, leave it to a professional. Take into consideration heavy lifting, expensive tools that may get limited use and whether you really have the time. That way, you won’t be temped to skip safety measures.
Large Appliance Safety
Can you imagine having to go out to the ice-house to get something to cook for dinner? Or spending hours scrubbing clothes on a washboard? Modern conveniences surely make life much easier today than it was 40 or 50 years ago, with large appliances such as refrigerators and washers taking the pain out of our daily tasks.
We often use these appliances without a second thought, which means we can sometimes forget to keep safety in mind. One of the most common dangers posed by large appliances is the risk of fire, accounting for 9,600 fires annually. Follow the safety and maintenance rules below to keep your appliances running at peak efficiency while keeping you and your family safe.
- Avoid overloading a washing machine.
- Make sure your washing machine is properly grounded with a ground fault circuit interrupter outlet (GFCI) – contact a qualified electrician to have one installed.
- Make sure the right plug and outlet are used together—washers should have a three prong, GFCI electrical plug.
- Never use a washer that is sitting in water.
- Do not operate a dryer without a lint filter, and always clean the lint filter before or after each use.
- Rigid or flexible metal venting materials should be used to sustain proper air flow and drying time.
- Make sure the air exhaust pipe isn’t restricted and that the outdoor vent flap will open when the dryer is operating.
- Clean lint out of the vent pipe once a year, or more often if you notice that it is taking longer than normal for your clothes to dry. You can also have a dryer lint removal service perform the work for you.
- Do not leave a dryer running if you leave home or when you go to bed.
- Never dry items that have come in contact with flammable substances, such as cooking oil, gasoline, paint thinner or alcohol.
- Keep burners, the stove top and oven clean and free of grease and other flammable debris.
- Never leave flammable items, such as hot pads or towels, near burners.
- Don’t leave food that is cooking unattended.
- Always turn pot handles inward to avoid the possibility of knocking a pot off the stove.
- Vacuum refrigerator coils every three months to eliminate dirt buildup that reduces efficiency and creates fire hazards.
- Allow air circulation behind the refrigerator.
And remember, even a slight shock from any appliance can indicate an extremely hazardous wiring condition. Turn the power to the appliance off at the circuit breaker and do not touch the appliance until it has been checked by a licensed, electrician.
With Little Ones, Invest in Tamper Resistant Receptacles
While children’s curiosity knows no boundaries, it can sometimes put them in danger, especially when electricity is involved.
Each year approximately 24,000 children under the age of 10 suffer severe shock and burns when they stick items into the slots of electrical receptacles; and it is estimated that there are six to 12 fatalities a year related to this hazard. Nearly one-third of these injuries are the result of small children placing ordinary household objects, such as paper clips, pens, safety pins, screws and nails, forks, hair pins, keys and coins, into an outlet.|
Since 2008, in order to help prevent these types of injuries, the National Electric Code (NEC) requires Tamper Resistant Receptacles (TRRs) in new residential construction and renovated homes. Tamper resistant receptacles feature built-in shutter systems that prevent foreign objects from touching electrically live components when they’re inserted into the slots. However, the shutters don’t impede normal plug insertion, removal or function. They are designed with spring-loaded receptacle cover plates that close off the receptacle openings, or slots (see diagram). The receptacle functions the same as a standard version, but adds a built-in safety mechanism preventing the delivery of electricity to anything other than plug blades. Existing homes can be easily retrofitted with TRRs using the same installation guidelines that apply to standard receptacles. They should only be installed by a licensed electrician and carry a label from a nationally recognized, independent testing lab, such as UL, ETL or CSA. These special receptacles have been used in pediatric areas of hospitals for more than 20 years and have proven to be a reliable solution in preventing electrical injuries.
The specialized outlets cost about 50 cents more than a traditional receptacle. In a newly constructed home, TRRs would add as little as $50 to the total cost of the home. In existing homes, standard electrical receptacles can be replaced with TRRs for about $2 per outlet – a small price to pay to ensure that your children are protected against electrical shocks and burns from electrical outlets.
Protecting Electronics & Preventing Hazards
Big-ticket electronics, such as televisions, computers and gaming consoles, were at the top of many holiday wish list sand found their way into many of our homes. Purchasing, installing and operating these items safely protects not only the expensive equipment, but also your entire home. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) offers the following tips.
- Check that all electrical items are certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Intertek (ETL).
- Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions before use.
- Send warranty and product registration forms for new items to manufacturers in order to be notified about product recalls. Recall information is also available on the website of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (http://www.cpsc.gov).
- Never install an exterior television or radio antenna close enough to contact power lines if it falls.
- Never remove the ground pin (the third prong) to make a three-prong plug fit into a two-prong outlet.
- All appliances and cords should be kept in good condition. Examine them regularly for damage, and repair or dispose of damaged items.
- Keep cords out of reach of children and pets.
- Make sure entertainment centers and computer workstations have enough space around them for ventilation of electronic equipment.
- Keep liquids, including drinks, away from electrical devices. Spills can result in dangerous shocks or fires.
- Unplug equipment when not in use to save energy and reduce the risks for shocks or fires. Power strips or surge protectors make a good central turn-off point.
- Always unplug electrical items by grasping the plug firmly rather than pulling on the cord.
- If you receive any kind of shock from a large appliance or any other electrical device, stop using it until an electrician has checked it.
- If an appliance smokes or sparks, or if you feel a tingle or light shock when it’s on, stop using it. Discard and replace it or have it repaired by an authorized service provider.
Surge protector or power strip?
Although surge protectors and power strips both allow you to plug several devices in one location, it is important for consumers to understand that they are not interchangeable. A true surge protector includes internal components that divert or suppress the extra current from surges, protecting your valuable electronics from electrical spikes, while a power strip simply provides more outlets for a circuit.
Electric Power Tools
Many do-it-yourself undertakings involve the use of electric power tools. Because of their power and the use of electricity, they present certain safety risks that users need to be aware of. Working with power tools requires instruction and training as they can be deadly if not properly used or maintained. Electrical shocks, which can lead to injuries, such as heart failure and burns, are among the major hazards associated with electric-powered tools.
Listed are some guidelines to help protect you from power tool hazards:
- Power cords are one of the most dangerous problem areas on electrical tools. Cords should be inspected frequently for fraying and other damage.
- Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) with every power tool.
- Wear appropriate personal protective gear, such as safety eyewear, face shields, hard hats, safety shoes and insulated gloves.
- Never use tools in a damp or wet environment (unless approved for that use) which will increase the risk of a short circuit or electrocution. Additionally, make sure the work area is uncluttered and well lit.
- Do not use power tools without the proper guards and safety switches.
- Store in a dry place with cords wound loosely (a cord should never be wrapped around the tool itself) and tools that have malfunctioned should be properly labeled to prevent others from attempting to use them.
- Electric tools must have a three-wire cord with a ground and be plugged into a grounded receptacle, double insulated or be powered by a low-voltage isolation transformer which is used to convey electrical power coming from a source of alternating current (AC) power to a certain device, where the powered device is being isolated from the power source for safety measures. Double–insulated tools are identified with a square-within-a-square logo or the words “double-insulated” on the tool.
- Use extreme caution when cutting or drilling into walls where electrical wires or water pipes could be accidentally touched or penetrated.
- Read the tool owner’s manual prior to use and operate tools within their design limitations.
- Do not operate power tools in explosive atmospheres, such as in the presence of flammable liquids, gases or dust. Power tools create sparks which may ignite the dust or fumes.
Power tools can be very useful and can save you a lot of work when compared to using conventional hand tools. When it comes to purchasing these tools, it is wise to spend a little more and focus on quality rather than price for your safety.