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Take care with home repair

Most do-it-yourselfers, and even professionals, skip the safety equipment, but statistics show that isn't smart.

When sanding a piece of wood, do you wear a dust mask?

When working in the yard, trimming the rosebushes, do you wear gloves for protection from thorns?

When using power tools, do you wear safety glasses?

Probably not. According to statistics compiled by the National Safety Council, a disabling injury occurs every five seconds, often in connection with a home repair or improvement project.

Last year, nearly 7-million Americans were injured while engaged in a project around the house, according to the safety council.

With the current home improvement boom, with work being done by both professionals and do-it-yourselfers, that number is likely to rise.

A survey conducted by MSA Safety Works of Pittsburgh, which manufactures safety equipment, found that do-it-yourselfers who are not confident about their ability to handle such projects also are least likely to wear protective gear.

Norm Abram, the master carpenter on This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop, was asked during an interview in his Boston-area workshop whether he was ever afraid of using power tools.

"When you're afraid of a tool, that's when you are most likely to injure yourself seriously," Abram said. "Confidence can reduce the chances of getting hurt."

Fewer than half of all do-it-yourselfers even consider using safety equipment before starting a project, according to the survey, and of those who consider it, few follow through.

The typical excuses are that the equipment is uncomfortable, or "I can't find it when I need it." A smaller percentage aren't sure what equipment to use, and 19 percent "have trouble seeing or breathing easily" while wearing safety gear, the MSA survey reported.

How many of you don't wear a dust mask while sanding or using a power mower to cut the lawn because your glasses get fogged up as you breathe and you can't see?

One in five Americans suffers from seasonal allergies, and many of those people could be helped by wearing a dust respirator.

Those whom the MSA survey describes as "capable contractor types" _ experienced do-it-yourselfers and professionals who are able to handle complex home improvement projects _ typically don't wear safety equipment, either.

"Nearly 20 percent of those interviewed acknowledged having to seek medical treatment for an injury sustained while working on a home improvement or repair project," said Jennifer L. Schlieper, a spokeswoman for MSA, which conducted the survey at home centers and do-it-yourself stores around the country.

The survey showed that 82 percent of respondents claim to regularly use safety goggles, but the National Safety Council says that more than 1-million Americans suffer eye injuries each year, and that 90 percent of these accidents could be prevented by using protective eyewear.

Few do-it-yourselfers use earplugs or earmuffs while working with loud power tools or lawn mowers, even though the safety council says that 30-million people are exposed to noise that damages hearing.

Even fewer wear hard hats, even though 450,000 emergency room visits each year are the result of being struck by a falling object, the safety council says. And 25 percent of all emergency room visits are the result of injuries that occur around the house.

By the way, the most common untreated injuries included dirt in the eye (60 percent), cuts (69 percent) and hitting fingers with a hammer (70 percent).

Of all those interviewed for the MSA survey, 72 percent "felt there was room for improvement in their personal safety-protection behavior," Schlieper said.

How can they improve? Here are suggestions:

Before you embark on a home improvement project, understand the potential hazards that may be involved and plan accordingly. If you are using a tall ladder to paint the exterior of your house, you might want to employ a safety harness, for example.

Choose safety eyewear designed for each job. Your spectacles may have safety lenses, but that doesn't mean that the impact of flying debris won't shatter the lens and send glass or plastic into your eye. Conversely, not all safety goggles will protect you from splashed chemicals.

Don't drape an extension cord over an area you will repeatedly traverse during the project, because you are bound to trip over it. As you complete portions of the project, clean up the area, removing spent nails and screws, or pieces of scrap lumber or drywall.

Wear the right kind of respiratory equipment. A disposable dust mask with a single strap reduces only the amount of pollen or non-toxic dust you could inhale. Government-approved respirators, which are available in home centers and hardware stores, are better protection from toxic dust and fumes from chemical strippers used in refinishing furniture. While asbestos and lead removal are not do-it-yourself projects, the professionals who do the work use high-efficiency particulate air filters. Other kinds of filters should be used for spray-painting or pesticide application.

Follow product guidelines.

Protect your hearing. Wear earplugs or industrial earmuffs that look like headphones.

Wear gloves or work clothes to protect your skin from contact with pesticides. That also goes for do-it-yourselfers who install fiberglass insulation (you'll itch for hours otherwise).

Ventilate properly. Never strip furniture in a closed room. Open windows, use fans, make sure the polluted air is constantly being replaced by fresh air.

Keep a fire extinguisher or bucket of sand handy.

Keep loose-fitting clothing, hair and jewelry from becoming entangled in power tools. You can use duct tape to temporarily "tailor" loose clothing, and keep the hair under a hat.