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Make sure you put safety first

It's a sad fact that DIY can be dangerous - every year, hundreds are seriously injured from taking insufficient safety precautions - but it doesn't have to be. It just takes some common sense and a number of simple measures to stay safe.

DIY almost always takes longer than you think and it's important not to cut corners and compromise your safety to get it done quicker. If you're going to do a job properly, it will take as long as it takes. If you're tired, frustrated or fed up of doing it, take a break or come back to it another day. This helps to keep you focused and able to concentrate. And if you're concentrating, you're more likely to be doing things safely.

It's important to be dressed appropriately as well ‒ and I don't just mean wearing old clothes. Things like tying back long hair, not wearing dangly jewellery and putting on the appropriate safety equipment when necessary, including steel-capped boots, a dust mask and goggles, equally apply. If you haven't got the safety equipment you need for a job, don't start. And remember to keep safety a priority as the job progresses, especially if what you're doing changes.

Before you begin, you need to know where all the essential services are in case you have to shut them off in an emergency. If you're doing plumbing, this means checking where the gate valves and stopcocks are and ensuring you can turn them off if you need to. If you're doing an electrical job, make sure you turn the electricity off at the mains before you begin. Familiarise yourself with how the fuse box works.

Plumbing and electrical jobs should almost always be left to the professionals, but there are some you can attempt safely. If at any time you realise you don't know what you're doing, don't compromise your safety ‒ call in a professional.

Even if you're not attempting electrical jobs yourself, it's a good idea to put together an emergency electrical repair kit. This should include rubber gloves, a working torch, insulating tape, pliers and screwdrivers, spare bulbs, fuses and fuse wires, if you have that type of fuse box. And while you hopefully won't need it, keep a well-stocked first aid kit to hand, just in case.

Most DIY jobs require tools and if you've got a new one, you must read the instructions before you use it ‒ even if you're a man! This is vital for your safety, particularly with power tools, but it applies to all DIY items, from paint and wallpaper to blinds and flooring. Don't assume you know how something works or goes on because you may not and you could endanger yourself, or ruin what you're doing, in the process. Even if it's not making you safer, reading the instructions should make the job easier.

Important as it is to know how to operate your tools properly, it's just as important to have the right tools for the job ‒ improvising with tools can, again, endanger your safety. And before you use a tool, check it's in good condition, paying particular attention to the plug and any parts you change, such as blades. Don't be tempted to use tools that have loose handles or heads, or that are broken or damaged in any other way.

Remember to look out for European quality standards when buying new tools, keep your tools in good condition so they work properly, and keep cover guards on sharp tools so they're safe. This also applies to your toolbox: Don't put any sharp blades in there uncovered because you could have a nasty surprise when putting your hand in there next time.

• In two weeks' time, we will be looking at more safety measures.




Quick fix - short answers to tricky questions

Q: I've got a cracked electricity socket: what should I do about it?

A: Damaged switches and sockets should be switched off and taped over so they can't be used. Get a qualified electrician to replace it as soon as possible or do it yourself, providing you can do it safely and legally (legal restrictions apply to electrical work)
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