Safety Equipment & Protective Gear
The Right Equipment Can Save Your Life!
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Properly protecting yourself from serious personal injuries
This article is designed to inform every user of tools
about the importance of using safety products for any project
By Michael Panish, Construction Expert Witness
As a construction expert witness, I am often asked about the importance
of using safety equipment. I have many years of personal experiences with
the proper observance of safety procedures and appropriate safety equipment
In my professional life as a general building contractor, I have conducted
regularly scheduled safety meetings, provided safety equipment to my employees,
and trained my workmen on the proper ways to protect themselves while
on the job. I have personally monitored my crews to verify that appropriate
protective gear is worn and used at all times when needed.
In my personal life, safety and appropriate protective equipment is equally
as important. I own, maintain, and use just about every piece of job specific
safety equipment that is available. It is my opinion that your home workshop,
personal residence, and yard can become just as dangerous as a construction
jobsite when work is being performed.
Many homeowners think that work around the house is not the same as work
on a construction jobsite. Do-it-yourself television programs make renovations
seem simple and easy to accomplish. As a result of these numerous television
shows, some homeowners attempt to tackle a renovation project completely
unprepared, at least with regard to the usage of safety equipment. I have
watched many television programs where the contractors, workmen, and homeowners
operate noisy power tools without hearing protection. They tear apart
walls and demolish interior partitions without dust masks, gloves, or
face protection. While performing hazardous work, these tradesmen do not
always address job safety or the potential health hazards from asbestos
related products, plaster dust, or mold issues that may exist within the
scope of the home renovation work. These television shows can mislead
or ignore the fact that the general public may view these projects as
safe and easy to accomplish. They potentially create safety concerns that
can affect the novice and uninformed viewer.
Serious personal injuries occur frequently to homeowners doing simple weekend
yard work, mainly due to the fact that they failed to wear protective
garments, eye or hearing protection. The "weekend warrior" risks
potential injury by over-reaching while working on undersized or improperly
positioned ladders, filling hot tools with explosive gasoline, or digging
trenches without checking for underground utilities. They purchase power
tools that they may not know how to use and lack the understanding of
the potential harm that the tool can create.
In many states, it is a requirement that a construction or demolition site
be surveyed for hazardous materials such as asbestos or petroleum products
prior to beginning any work. Even some professional contractors ignore
this investigation and most homeowners are completely unaware of this
necessary safety check. The importance of this preliminary site survey
cannot be overstated. Contamination from construction debris or hazardous
waste is not only dangerous to the site workers, but can seriously affect
the environment and can create costly cleanup related fees.
I have been the retained construction expert on several personal injury
cases that involved trained construction workers. These workmen are required
to wear and use protective clothing such as steel toed shoes and a hard
hat during normal on the job hours. However, when working on their own
personal residences, they chose to wear casual clothes such as tennis
shoes, and baseball hats, all the while drinking alcohol. The lack of
proper protective gear, in combination with alcohol consumption, and numerous
distractions ended in serious personal injuries.
In one of my past construction injury cases, an inebriated tradesman/homeowner
decided to adjust an overhead sectional garage door spring. He had no
training of any type dealing with these springs and paid no attention
to the installed spring tension warning labels. What made him feel qualified
was that he had watched a couple of garage door installer's repair
or adjust a neighbors' garage door. Not understanding the tremendous
stored energy in the garage door torsion spring, and after having had
a few drinks, the homeowner decided he had the courage to remove the bolts
that secure the spring and make an adjustment. He chose to use a small
wrench. The short tool that he used became unmanageable in his hand, he
lost his grip and the tool which was now powered by the force of the stored
energy in the spring, flew off of the bolts and smashed into his face and head.
How does this story relate to safety products? Safety and the appropriate
usage of safety products start with the conscious decision on the part
of the user to employ those safety devices. Rational behavior and common
sense are often impaired by the usage of alcohol, and any construction
or yard work should not be performed while under the influence.
Safety products for almost every purpose are available at most local home
centers. While the quality and durability of these products may or may
not equal products in professional trade supply houses, they at least
begin to address the importance of using appropriate safety products to
keep the homeowner aware that safety concerns are real. In addition, most
safety products are currently available on line and can be purchased for
next day delivery.
Inform Others to Leave You Alone While You Are Working
One of the most basic forms of safety for any jobsite or home location
is to make sure that you have a clear and secure work area. Inform co-workers
or your family to leave you alone to do your work. Do not play games around
your work space or allow children or animals to distract you or divert
your attention in any way. A quick glance toward a diversion can create
enough distraction to create severe personal injuries. Whether you are
using a portable saw, table or hand saw, distractions equal danger. Pay
strict attention to your work, stop when you become tired or lose interest,
and remain focused on your project without any outside interruptions.
This aspect of safety does not require purchasing any piece of equipment.
Continual and ongoing safety should always be your first priority.
What Safety Devices Should a Homeowner Have in Their Home?
The following list is a suggested start to basic equipment you should have
around the house.
Many common fires around the house can be stopped with the usage of a proper
fire extinguisher. While quick action and correct usage may put out the
fire, it is important to also be aware of the limitations of the extinguisher
used. Fully understand and read all included instructions prior to usage.
It is a good and safe practice to regularly inspect your extinguisher
to verify that it is properly charged. It is also a good idea to make
sure that the contents of the extinguisher do not become a solid mass.
A few times a year it is recommended that the contents be shaken. Alternatively,
a rubber mallet can be used to smack the bottom of the device (do not
hit the valve or hose components). This agitation will help to prevent
the solid materials from clumping into an unusable mass.
Smoke, Fire, Carbon Monoxide Detectors
These devices give advance warning to unseen, unknown, or undetectable
dangerous conditions. It is important to check the condition of the power
source to these detectors. If they are hardwired into the building, check
to verify that a battery back-up exists. If the type of battery installed
charges during normal conditions it probably does not need replacing every
six months. If the battery is expendable, it is good practice to change
it whenever daylight savings events occur. It is good practice to test
these devices, either hard wired or battery type, at least once a month
to verify that they are working correctly. If a test fails, replace the
device immediately to assure your protection. Seek additional information
regarding these devices from the manufacturer or online sources.
Fire Escape Ladders
Add extra safety to your family if you have multiple floors. Stairwells
can often become chimneys, depending upon the location of a fire. In the
event of a fire, it is important to have multiple egress points. Pre-boxed
fire escape ladders can be kept under windows, beds or adjacent closets
to be used in the event of a fire. Always check the condition of the ladder
immediately after purchase to assure that the ladder is usable in the
event of an emergency situation. These ladders are available in some home
centers and online for immediate shipping.
Dust Masks & Respirators
Respirators and dust masks are an important part of many jobs. It is important
to make sure that your lungs and airways are protected from adverse chemicals
and airborne contaminants. There are many types of dust masks available.
Dust masks should not be confused or interchanged with respirators. A
dust mask is generally a low cost paper or synthetic filtering device
manufactured to help stop dust, debris, and dirt from entering your nose
and mouth. A respirator is generally considered a cartridge and filtered
system to trap contaminants and purify the air particles prior to entering
your respiratory system. Make certain that the usage of the proper type
of mask or respirator is proven for the type of work that you are performing.
Make certain that the filters and cartridges in a respirator are approved
by NIOSH or OSHA and meet the requirements to protect you. An indication
that a respirator needs the replacement of filters is when you begin to
smell or taste the products you are using the respirator to filter. When
that occurs, always stop work, replace the cartridge or filter prior to
continuing. Always read, follow, and understand the instructions that
come with this piece of safety equipment. Check with the manufacturer
or supplier to verify that you are using appropriate products for your job.
More professional and stringent requirements for the usage of certain type
of respirators include medical evaluations prior to the issuance of the
respirator. An example of this type of requirement would pertain to work
related to asbestos or mold abatement. In addition to proper training
prior to working with asbestos, it is important that a medical evaluation
determines that your body is able to properly function while you are wearing
the approved respirator. The removal of asbestos or mold is not to be
taken lightly and should not be performed by an untrained, unlicensed
or uncertified contractor. This is not a project for a homeowner.
Gloves for all purposes (Rubber, latex, chemical resistant, electrical
insulated, leather work, thermal insulated, heat resistant, Kevlar reinforced,
etc.) - Gloves are a very basic and easy to find safety item. The importance
of proper protection of your hands and arms cannot be overstated. There
are as many types of gloves available as there are types of jobs. It is
important to know the limitations and requirements of your gloves prior
to beginning work.
Hearing protection includes equipment such as ear plugs and head phones.
Long term hearing loss can be created by a sudden unexpected loud noise.
It is important to plan for that possibility and provide adequate hearing
protection. Long term exposure to low levels of certain frequencies can
also damage hearing. Consult online guides, job related service manuals,
and other available sources to determine the correct type of hearing protection
that should be used for any job. Repeated exposure to yard and lawn equipment
can be very damaging to your ears, and even though it may occur on an
infrequent basis, it is important for anyone exposed to these products
to protect their ears.
Safety clothing for specialized usage. Some examples of protective clothing
products and related items include Kevlar chainsaw protective chaps, gloves,
boots, hard hat with face shield, etc. Chain saw users can encounter several
assaults on their bodies at every usage. Hearing can be seriously affected,
so headphones are essential. A hardhat is recommended to protect against
the inadvertent tree branch falling from above. A face shield is suggested
to protect against flying wood chips, tree limbs, and branches that may
brush past a user. Safety glasses are suggested to protect against sudden
projectile impacts that pass the face shield. One of the most significant
and potentially lifesaving products that can be worn are products made
using Kevlar fabric. This fabric, when cut with an errant chain saw chain,
becomes shredded and grabs the chain, hopefully stopping the chain before
cutting your body parts. It is important to wear protective boots, chaps,
gloves, and vests made with Kevlar at all times during usage of a chain
saw to protect all major body parts and extremities.
Work Shop / Wood Shop Protection
Face masks, goggles, dust masks, respirators, hearing protection, proper
gloves for specific tasks, ventilation devices for airflow, and dust collectors
are recommended. Understand the task that you are planning, and make certain
to have all needed safety products and equipment prior to starting your
project. A good first aid kit is important to have in your workshop.
Steel Toed Work Boots or Regular Work Boots are essential for working with
heavy objects that can fall on your feet. Steel toed boots have a protective
reinforcement in the toe to protect your foot from falling objects, compression,
or punctures. For light products, non-steel toed shoes may be sufficient.
The addition of steel in your work boots is good additional insurance
against foot injuries. Steel toed shoes are often professional requirements
on most work sites. Why not add the protection of steel toed work boots
when you plan to buy your next pair of work shoes?
Proper and appropriate ladders for multipurpose use. Never use a ladder
for more than its' intended purpose. Fiberglass ladders offer non
conductivity from electrical sources, come in a variety of types and load
ratings, and last for years. In most cases, they are far more durable
than a wooden ladder or any aluminum ladder product. They may cost a little
more, but are well worth the price in the long run, and will provide many
years of safe usage if properly maintained and stored.
Ground Fault Circuit Protection
Ground fault circuit protectors for electrical outlets in water or moisture
adjacent areas. While a G.F.I. (Ground fault interrupter) is an electrical
code requirement in wet locations in newer construction, older homes may
not have been upgraded to include these devices. Homeowners, not thinking
about shock hazards, may not know if the outlet that they are connecting
exterior extension cords to are grounded or protected by a G.F.C.I. (Ground
fault circuit interrupter.) Unprotected circuits and outlets now connected
to these electrical extension cords can lead to shock hazards or even death.
The above list of suggested safety equipment is not to be considered an
exhaustive resource of information. Suggestions made in this article should
offer some assistance in determining the type of products that will help
to increase your safety when working around your home. The author is not
responsible for any omitted or included content and urges the reader to
make informed decisions and take personal responsibility to assure that
they have received all the information to make informed decisions for
any project. The author is not responsible for any manufacturers'
products, defects, or usage of those products. Be informed that readers
of this article assume all risks associated with using safety equipment
mentioned in the article.
Remember to purchase the best quality safety products that you can find.
Remember the saying: If you have a ten dollar head, get a ten dollar helmet.
The same adage applies to all safety gear. Buy the best products available,
check what a tool or equipment supplier recommends, and research the proper
way to use the safety equipment. If you are unsure as to whether something
is safe, and you have any doubts, do not proceed with any work. Seek professional
assistance and protect yourself from possible severe bodily injuries.
Sample Injuries that can occur around the Home:
Chain Saw related injuries
in many areas around the country, it is not unusual for a homeowner to
own and routinely use a chain saw. From information given to me at many
chain saw supply stores, very few people choose to purchase the protective
garments such as Kevlar lined gloves, boots and chaps. And, they don't
always concern themselves with eye, ear, or head protection. When I purchased
a chain saw several years ago, the local store owner was surprised and
pleased that I requested and purchased all of the safety products that
pertained to usage of that saw. The usual homeowner attitude is that "I
am not working professionally, so my casual usage of this chain saw will
not be a problem." With all accidents, it only takes one incident
to change your life completely. The chain saw itself is only one part
of a potential serious injury. Falling tree branches can strike you on
the head, scratch your face, and injure your eyes. Loud noise from the
chain saw is also significant in damaging your ears and creating fatigue
while working for long periods of time. Wearing proper Kevlar protective
clothing can save your life. The steel like threads that make up Kevlar
become entangled in a chain saw chain stopping its' cutting action
instead of allowing the chain to cut a vital body part such as arteries
in your leg, arm or hand. Kevlar reinforced steel toed work boots also
help protect your feet from heavy objects and accidental contact with
your chain saw blade.
Work shop related injuries
Many homeowners enjoy the time spent in their workshops in out-buildings,
garages, and basements. Workshop injuries occur for many reasons. Working
without protective clothing or eye and ear protection top the list. Working
for too long, becoming tired, and attempting to finish a project often
create careless mistakes that lead to life altering injuries. Over working
tools (pushing the tools to perform tasks that they are not designed to
do or the over-stressing of blades and drill bits) lead to fracturing
and projectile ejection. Quality safety equipment can help to limit the
potential injuries from unpredictable occurrences. But, most importantly,
common sense and knowing when to stop work are the most important aspect
in preventing personal injury. Fresh air is also essential to assure your
safety. Make sure your work space is properly ventilated and there is
adequate air exchange. Never spray paint or other finishes in an enclosed
space. In addition to becoming difficult to breathe and see, sprays can
become explosive if the right conditions and airborne concentrations exist.
The purpose of wearing protective products should make perfect sense to
everyone. It is important that you, as the power tool user, take it upon
yourself to purchase and use appropriate safety equipment. Many big box
stores gladly sell potentially dangerous power tools to anyone. Normally,
there is not any verification to see if the new power tool buyer has proper
training, safety equipment or enough information to use the tool safely.
While there is no law regarding regulating the purchase of most dangerous
tools, even a simple hammer can create bodily injury if not used properly.
It is not the responsibility of a store to enforce the usage of safety
equipment, but it seems that it would be a good policy to inquire with
the new tool buyer whether or not they are prepared to safely use their
new tool and have proper safety equipment.
Major life threatening injuries can result from the improper usage of power
tools and even small hand tools. It is important to remember to use any
necessary safety equipment that would protect you from injury while using
a specific piece of equipment.
Personal safety is the responsibility of the individual. Safety information
and products are available online and in trade publications and journals
that offer construction related products.
Mike has been designated by Plaintiff and Defense as construction expert
witness in jobsite injury and accident cases resulting from improper or
unsafe tool usage, inappropriate safety precautions, and hazardous working
conditions. He has been called upon by insurance adjusters and claims
representatives to evaluate the jobsite conditions and assist them in
determining the reason for the claim or injury. In addition, insurance
claims adjusters have called upon him to help them analyze the causation
of fires and floods that have resulted from incorrect usage or mishandled
tools and equipment. Mike has been an invaluable part of the team representing
the Plaintiff when a claim of unsafe and reckless behavior on the part
of the employer was determined. He has provided his expert services in
defense of claims that have limited the Defendant's liability in other
cases. His past experience in the trades has allowed his evaluations to
carry significant weight during mediations and arbitration hearings. The
vast majority of cases where he was the retained construction expert have
settled favorably for his clients. A full list of Mike Panish's construction
expert witness services is available on his website at www.ConstructionWitness.com.