Doing it yourself safely

New Zealand is a nation of great do-it-yourselfers, but all too often that ‘can do’ spirit gets us injured. In fact, each year tens of thousands of people are injured doing jobs around the house.

So, even though you’re dying to get stuck into those unfinished jobs, take a few minutes to remind yourself of these easy safety tips before you dust off the tools and drag out the ladder. Remember you don’t need to literally kill yourself getting the job done!

Wear personal safety gear

The professionals wear it for a reason, so make sure you have the right protection for the job. That may include a hard hat or helmet, eye protection, ear muffs, overalls, gloves, safety masks and dusk masks, and even respirators if you’re spray painting or welding. Closed-in shoes, or steel caps, are a very good idea – even for mowing the lawn.

Keep your tools in good condition

Are the handles on your hammer, screwdrivers or files split and loose? Do your spanners have splayed jaws or do your chisels have blunt or mushroomed cutting edges? If they do, replace them. You might not think it, but you’re actually twice as likely to be injured using a hand tool than when using a power tool.

Know your capabilities

This especially applies to power tools. Match the size and type of your job to the appropriate tools, and if you don’t own the appropriate tools, hire them or a professional to do the job for you. Don’t use any tool to do a job it’s not designed for – it may end up cutting you instead. Many jobs, such as welding, call for specialised skills so don’t give it a crack if you don’t have the know-how.

Keep your space clear of obstacles and clutter

Have regular clean ups so you don’t trip on stuff left on the ground. Install lots of storage space and use it! Also, invest in cordless tools, or at least keep those electrical cables strapped nice and securely to the wall.

Keep emergency equipment handy

Include a fire extinguisher and first aid kit in your emergency equipment.

Beware of dusts, fumes, gases and smoke

Many DIY products such as paints, glues, concrete and wood produce potentially harmful substances, and unfortunately we don’t always notice them before we’ve already breathed in more than we should. If you can’t swap the toxic substance for a non-toxic one, make sure your work area is well-ventilated and that you wear the right sort of respiratory protection. For most jobs, a disposable half-face mask is not enough, so ask at a hardware or safety equipment store for advice on what’s the right respirator for your face shape and the job you’re doing.


Never use a ladder or stepladder if any parts are missing, broken or loose – it’s just not worth the risk of a life-long injury. Once the ladder’s up properly, secure it well and keep three points of contact with it at all times – that means two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand when climbing, or two feet and one hand when working. See Ladder safety.

Chainsaw safety

If you don’t know how to use a chainsaw, don’t attempt it. It’s not worth the injuries. If you do know how to use a chainsaw, give it a thorough check before you start up, making sure everything is lubricated and nothing is broken or missing. Check the chain has the right tension and that all cutting edges are sharp and well-adjusted. Then, when you use it, wear the full complement of safety gear, hold it firmly, never cut above the shoulder and never use your chainsaw to cut anything other than wood. See Chainsaw safety.

Use a Residual Current Device (RCD)

If you’re working with power tools outside, an RCD could save you from being electrocuted, so they’re definitely worth the investment. See more about residual current devices.

Don’t over-reach yourself

If you don’t feel you have the skills for the job, there’s no shame in getting a professional to do it for you. Remember, doing it yourself should be fun!

Last updated: 11 February 2014

Last reviewed: 22 January 2014