Injuries linked to home improvement projects
More and more homeowners are enlisting as weekend warriors -- which means plenty of combat-related injuries.
"I probably see a patient a day with some type of injury because of them doing something at home -- a fix-it kind of job," said Dr. Fred Harchelroad, chairman of the emergency medicine department at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side.
"We really see just about every injury imaginable."
A new survey from Vertis Inc., a Baltimore marketing firm, found that nearly half of adults surveyed say they do home improvement projects themselves, up from 38 percent in 2000.
There are no hard numbers on how many of those projects land people in the emergency room, said John Ulczycki of the National Safety Council, based in Itasca, Ill. The best estimate could come from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which estimated that nearly 288,000 people landed in the ER in 2003 because of an injury from a piece of home workshop equipment.
Dr. Thomas Pangburn, director of Sewickley Valley Hospital's emergency department, said he attributes the increase in the number of injuries he sees to the availability of heavy-duty tools and equipment.
"In the past you had a handsaw, nails and a hammer. Now you have power nailers and compressors, table saws, circular saws, joiners, those kinds of things with the availability of these tools through the big companies," he said. "When you just had the local hardware store, you didn't have these things as available or as affordable."
Both doctors said they see a large number of falls from a ladder, which can result in broken bones, paralysis or death. Pangburn said he frequently sees lacerations, ranging from minor cuts to finger amputation, from table saws.
Nail guns also are a culprit. Some unfortunate patients are still attached to the project they were trying to nail when they're wheeled into the ER, Pangburn said.
Dr. Ravindra Vajjhala, director of emergency medicine at UPMC Passavant in Cranberry, said he sees many injuries because people overestimate what they will be able to do.
If the project is not something within their domain, they're attempting something beyond their scope, it could be harmful," he said.
"Somebody who is not experienced in certain areas goes and reads or gets help from Home Depot - that could turn out to be a major problem subsequently because they are not aware of some of the nuances of those tools or some of the other dangers involved with it," Vajjhala said.
The fact is, not many do-it-yourselfers have safety on the brain, said John Quinn, marketing manager for MSA Safetyworks in O'Hara.
MSA surveyed consumers who bought equipment for home projects from big-box retailers and found that purchasing protective gear didn't enter the minds of 92 percent.
The company sells a line of chic-looking safety glasses, earplugs and hard hats to try to appeal to the sensible but style-conscious weekend warrior.
"You don't want to be walking around your house like you just stepped off the set of "Revenge of the Nerds," said MSA spokesman Mark Deasy.
Harchelroad said many accidents could be prevented if the do-it-yourselfer would think before pounding that first nail.
"Take an extra minute to think about how something can go wrong with a piece of equipment and if you are really protecting yourself," he said. "Read the instructions on a piece of machinery you're using and follow them. Take 60 seconds to think before you jump into doing it."