DIY dangers rise as safety is ignored
Home handymen are suffering serious head, neck and stomach injuries in growing numbers as many ignore safety mechanisms on power tools or fall from heights while repairing gutters and roofs.
Data collected by the State Trauma Registry based at Royal Perth Hospital show that injuries around the home are on the rise, growing by 16.2 per cent between 2012 and 2013, but it is the severity of avoidable DIY injuries that have authorities issuing warnings.
The statistics show most home handymen came to grief using ladders and power tools — usually incorrectly.
Machinery-related injuries — everything from using chainsaws to lawn mowers and nail guns — usually happened on long weekends, and 95.5 per cent of those were sustained by men, who outnumbered women in the statistics by 20 to one.
Dr Sudhakar Rao, director of the State Trauma Unit at Royal Perth Hospital, said it was not surprising to see men over-represented in the figures but the severity of injuries would surprise most people.
“We’ve seen chainsaws cutting part of the way through people’s heads and necks but the worst damage we’ve treated was from an angle grinder, where the disc spun itself two-thirds of the way into the patient’s abdomen, narrowly missing a major blood vessel, ” he said.
“These are major injuries — people lose fingers and they suffer serious head injuries.
“The wrong use of equipment is usually behind most of the injuries but more worrying is that people sometimes remove the safety features because they are getting in the way of the job they’re doing. It’s a really dangerous thing to do, resulting in serious injuries to forearms, faces and abdomens.”
Dr Rao said the figures did not include those who presented to emergency departments across the State with less serious cuts, fractures and abrasions and who were discharged within 24 hours.
The extent of the problem was difficult to measure accurately but it was not a trivial one, he said.
After falls, which accounted for almost 19 per cent of around-the- home injuries, power tools were inflicting significant head, neck, eye and limb injuries, with angle grinders doing the most damage, he said.
About 6 per cent of the injuries involved machinery.
The State Trauma Registry data were collected in 2013 and show there were 1868 accidents around the home in WA last year — averaging just over five a day.
Women accounted for 46 per cent of those, usually from falls inside the home.
There were 190 falls from a height of less than 3m — 36 per cent of those were people falling from ladders while cleaning gutters and pruning trees.
None of the recorded around-the-home injuries was fatal.
Most worrying of all, Dr Rao said, was the number of men over the age of 65 who were attempting to do their own maintenance.
A third of those injured using power tools were beyond retirement age.
“In older people, the risk is so much greater, ” he said.
“They may be on medication that affects balance and strength, their reflexes are often slower, their eyesight is poorer. When they fall, they often sustain more serious injuries because their bones are weaker and their ability to withstand the fall is lessened.”
Deborah Costello, chief executive at the Injury Control Council of WA, said data relating to DIY injuries were not routinely collected across the health system, so it was difficult to gauge the extent of the problem.
“Many people with DIY injuries would present at emergency departments, GPs or not seek medical assistance at all, so the true numbers are unclear, ” she said.
“What we do know is that human error is at the heart of many of the injuries.
“Following safety instructions, limiting the consumption of alcohol and wearing protective equipment are really simple ways to save lives and limbs.”
© The West Australian
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