Planning to plant a tree or put up a fence? Listen up: It's crucial to know the location of any underground utility lines before you get down to the business of digging. Otherwise, you run the risk of shoveling right into a buried pipe, television hookup, or in the worst-case scenario, a power line. Such accidents occur more often than you might think. In fact, the Common Ground Alliance estimates U.S. homeowners hit in-ground utility lines as often as every three minutes. Before you break ground, protect yourself—call 811. The free government service coordinates with relevant local utilities to visit your home and mark out any line locations. That way, you know precisely where not to dig.
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- 10 Accidents Waiting to Happen—and How to Stay Safe
10 Accidents Waiting to Happen—and How to Stay Safe
Underground Utility Lines
Clogged Dryer Vents
You don't need another reminder that excess dryer lint causes thousands of house fires each year. For that reason, you regularly remove lint from the filter and vacuum inside the appliance (especially near the motor and heating element). That said, if you forget to inspect the dryer vent—the channel that exhausts hot air to the outdoors—you're taking on unnecessarily enhanced risk. The best course of action: Make vent cleaning part of your regular outdoor maintenance routine. Start by disconnecting the exhaust duct from the dryer. Next, head outdoors. Once you have located the vent termination, remove the vent cap if necessary, then spend a few minutes clearing the vent with a vacuum and brush.
Power Tool Injury
When using power tools, wearing the proper gear is nearly as important as practicing the right technique. Always don basic protective equipment: goggles to shield your eyes from debris, work gloves to prevent cuts, earplugs to guard against hearing damage, and closed-toe shoes to minimize the impact of fallen items. Consider putting on a face mask or respirator if working with a tool that produces lots of dust and debris. In terms of clothing, avoid wearing jewelry or anything loose-fitting, which can get caught in your machine. Taking these precautions can prevent both minor injuries and major issues, like blindness, hearing loss, deep cuts, or even severed limbs.
Paints and stains contain high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and exposure can cause negative side effects like dizziness, eye and lung irritation, fatigue, headaches, or worse. To minimize these symptoms, always maintain proper ventilation when painting an indoor space. Open all windows and position an exhaust fan toward the window to help paint fumes travel outdoors, or use a window-mounted box fan to achieve the same effect. Leave the windows open for 2–3 days after finishing the project, and limit your time in the room during that period. For additional protection, choose to wear a respirator while painting or staining.
Incorrect Fuel Storage
If your outdoor tools power up on gasoline, you can't get around storing at least one canister at home for the day your machine runs on empty. When you do store the flammable fuel in your garage, though, you must take a certain number of precautions to prevent combustion. Check with your local fire codes for caps on how much you can store in one location, but typically homeowners must split their supply into tightly-sealed containers up to 5 gallons each, which are to be stored out of direct sunlight, away from any source of heat (like the garage heater), and at least 50 feet away from ignition sources.
Caution Around Cords
Whether power-washing the driveway or trimming the hedges with electric pruning shears, a long electrical cord or outdoor-grade extension cord helps you go the distance down the driveway or around the perimeter of the house. But the same cords can trip you up, quite literally. Prevent falls by keeping the trail of cord behind you and using the shortest length of extension cord necessary—not more. Moreover, never begin a task that requires an extension cord in the dewy morning or after a rainfall; a cord dragged through the wet lawn or a puddle on the hardscape could pose a risk of electrocution.
Not Following Code
Taking the reins of your home renovation gives you total control of every detail. It's a big project but, when done well, can be hugely satisfying. If you're embarking on a DIY reno, get acquainted with local building codes and file the proper paperwork before you even begin. Remember: Any home improvement that involves more than a fresh coat of paint may require a permit from your community’s building department. Building codes aren't just about having the right paperwork. The fact is, home construction that's not up to code can be dangerous, may not be covered by insurance, and puts you at risk to serious fines. If you want to make doubly sure your work isn’t a hazard to you and the rest of your house, hire a general inspector to perform an evaluation.
Disease Carrying Insects
Flies and insects might just seem like an outdoor annoyance, but some of these tiny pests are tiny dangers in disguise. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that insects that spread vector-borne diseases—such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and Zika—are a serious hazard for outdoor workers. Mosquitos and ticks are common carriers for these illnesses and may be hiding in your yard. To avoid getting bitten, wear clothes that cover your arms and legs and spray yourself and your garments with bug spray. If you do think a bug got you, learn the signs and symptoms of the diseases above and consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Mow with Care
There's no way around it: A good-looking lawn needs regular mowing from the first signs of spring to the early days of fall. You know the drill: Mow no more than 1/3 off the top of the grass blade, and never wait to long in between trims. But did you know that 253,000 people are hospitalized due to lawn mower accidents each year? Furthermore, many of those are children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Take precautions by educating kids about mower safety, keep youngsters out of the yard when you mow, and leave the pets inside until the job is done. Protect yourself by properly attaching the discharge shoot, wearing sturdy shoes, and following the manufacturer's instructions.
Related: 9 Mowing Mistakes Everyone Makes
Injury by Ladder
Even for those not afraid of heights, climbing a ladder can be a little nerve-wracking. There's good reason to be scared: A fall could send you to the emergency room and cause serious injuries, even death. Luckily, if you follow a few simple safety precautions, you can keep yourself out of harm's way. Remember the following points when working with ladders: Always keep one hand on the side rails, never climb a ladder with wet or slippery shoes, keep your body centered on the ladder and don't overreach, which could cause the ladder to tip. Of course, it's important to choose the right type of ladder for the job and make sure it's properly stabilized before you step foot on it. It may help to have a spotter on hand to help keep your ladder steady while you work. Stay safe!