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Top 7 safety tips for your next reno or DIY project

A woman and man painting a wall inside their home.
Planning a DIY project? Make sure safety is on the checklist.

Learning how to renovate or build something from scratch can be immensely satisfying, and many Queenslanders love to get stuck into a DIY project around the house.

It is important however, to think about safety before starting a DIY job, and put measures in place on site to protect yourself, as well as your family and neighbours. Be aware that even small DIY jobs can lead to a visit to the emergency department without appropriate planning and safety precautions.

Whether you’re slapping on a deck or giving the bathroom a facelift it pays to keep safety in mind when you’re planning your next DIY project. Follow these tips to minimise your risk and renovate safely like a pro.

1. Protect yourself

It is important to appropriately plan and prepare before starting any renovation. It is essential for your and your family’s health and safety that you have all the safety gear you need for the work you are about to undertake. Without appropriate planning you may risk breaking pipes, hitting wires or even smashing into asbestos you didn’t realise was there.

Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment can help minimise your risk of breathing in or ingesting contaminants while renovating. Learning how to safely identify, work with and remove hazardous materials is a must before you begin your renovation. The below are some materials to be aware of when renovating in Queensland.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a fibrous material that was used to build homes in Australia prior to 1990. Strong, durable and fire resistant, asbestos was thought to be a great, inexpensive building material until it was discovered that exposure to it may cause fatal diseases including mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Asbestos is a material best left to the experts. When planning your renovation, it may be a good idea to contact a licensed asbestos assessor or removalist who can tell you if asbestos is present and give you advice on how you can handle it or have it removed.

A list of accredited asbestos assessors and/or removalists can be found at the Queensland Government Worksafe website. For more information about dealing with asbestos, visit the Queensland Government Asbestos website.

Lead paint

If your home was built before 1970 lead-based paint has probably been used. If your DIY activity involves painting, you should do a lead-based paint test before any sanding or repainting.

Lead is a toxic substance and can build up to dangerous levels in the body with repeated exposures. The sanding and grinding of lead based paints can make a lot of lead contaminated dust that can be inhaled or swallowed and may lead to poisoning. It’s particularly a concern to children, pregnant women and unborn babies.

It’s important to work with and remove lead paint properly. Lead Alert: The six step guide to painting your home provides information for home renovators on identifying and safely working with lead paint.

Mould

Mould can build up in areas of houses that are prone to dampness and in poorly ventilated spaces, like bathrooms, laundries, kitchens and under carpets. Mould may cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems when the tiny spores are released and are breathed in, so it’s important to remove mould safely and think about ways to prevent future mould growth as you renovate.

If you’re repainting walls or other hard surfaces, you can add an anti-mould solution to the paint to help slow down mould growth. Ask your painter or hardware supplier for details.

You can find more information about mould, how to remove it and how to prevent it on the following websites:

Cleaning up mould

Looking after your home – mould

A woman wears personal protective equipment while removing bathroom tiles with a hammer.

2. Consider if you should really lift it

Moving large, heavy or awkward objects can cause strain on your body that might lead to injury. Some forward thinking can go a long way to preventing these injuries when renovating.

Rather than focusing on a safe way to lift, think about ways to prevent unnecessary lifting. To save you from needless risk, ask for deliveries to be placed exactly where they need to be so you don’t need to move them again.

Before you do bend down to pick something up, think about whether you should ask someone to help you move it. It’s not just weight you should consider; keep in mind whether you’ll be able to see over the object while walking, if the path to where you’re going is clear and if there’s a safe place to put the object down. The same considerations should be given to objects that need to be pushed or pulled to a new location.

Repetitive movements – something you do over and over again – can also lead to injury, even if the movement isn’t particularly difficult. Take regular breaks from repetitive tasks like painting, digging or scraping.

3. Ladders and heights

Working at heights – even slightly off the ground – is an activity that should always be undertaken with care. A lovely paint job or a nice fresh kitchen will be of little comfort to you if you’re laid up in hospital after falling off a ladder or slipping off the roof.

When working with ladders, follow the Queensland Government’s seven steps for staying safe.

4. Look up and Live

Speaking about ladders, it’s important to be mindful of powerlines whenever you’re moving tall objects like ladders, or materials like poles, palings or pipes, working at heights or driving vehicles.

Bumping into a powerline or power pole with objects you’re carrying or in a vehicle can cause injury or death. As the slogan goes, Look up and Live.

5. Outsource electrical work

There’s a lot you can learn from YouTube tutorials, but how to do your own home electrical work should never be one of them. Even if you’re doing a DIY project to save on cash, electrical work is something you need to leave to a qualified electrician.

Simply put, electricity can easily kill you if handled incorrectly. Faulty electrical work can also cause injury or death to others, and can cause fire. If the danger of working with electricity isn’t enough to put you off, doing your own electrical work is illegal and could void your insurance policies.

Read more about the risks of DIY electrical work on the Worksafe website.

Close up of an electrician's hands, working on repairing a light switch.

6. Watch out for poisons

Paints, paint strippers, solvents, polishes, insect sprays, bleaches and other cleaning solutions are common poisons found around the house and may be used during a renovation. During renovations, adults and children might be poisoned by these kinds of chemicals. This can often happen when a product is transferred from its original container into a food or beverage container instead of an appropriate chemical container.

It is important that when using a poison, it is done so in accordance to its label directions.

For more information about poison safety please visit the Queensland Poisons Information Centre’s website.

7. Stay safe in the elements

Queensland weather conditions aren’t always a renovator’s dream. While endless days of sunshine might help paint to dry, heat and humidity can quickly result in conditions like dehydration, while exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation can cause skin cancer to develop later down the line.

Follow this guide for preventing and treating dehydration, and remember to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide every day, whenever you’re heading outside (those trips between the car, the house and the hardware store can expose you to more sun than you might think!). If you’re wearing safety gear like a hard hat, thinking about ways you can make it sun safe, too, like attaching a legionnaires style flap to the back of your helmet to protect your neck from sunburn.

Staying safe during your renovation means that when the project is completed, you can look back on the process with fond memories and will be able to healthily and happily enjoy the rewards of all your hard work. No matter how big or small, keeping safety in mind while renovating or doing a DIY project should be a key step when planning and completing your work.

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Last updated: 8 May 2019