Health and Safety

Health and safety concerns should not deter you from the satisfaction and pleasure of maintaining your property yourself, but the risks involved in carrying out minor building maintenance work should always be properly assessed beforehand.

With lead often present in historic paints, an hour spent sanding down paintwork on a ground floor window can represent as much of a health and safety risk as climbing a ladder to replace a slipped roof tile.

With careful preparation, risk assessment and the correct use of the right equipment, many maintenance jobs around the house are well within most people’s capability.

However advice can not be given on which tasks you should or should not attempt yourself, as every situation is different and each individual has different abilities. If you suspect a job may be beyond your level of competence then call in a professional contractor.

Assessing risks

When assessing risk the work at hand should be broken down into elements and each element honestly assessed. For example, the task of clearing your gutters involves the risk of working at heights and a risk from dust when removing debris from the gutter. If you feel unqualified or unequipped for any element of the task then call in a professional contractor.

Protective clothing

A major factor in carrying out maintenance work safely is the use of the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Head protection, safety eyewear, masks, gloves, overalls and protective footwear should all be worn if there is a risk to any part of your body. These can all be obtained relatively cheaply from your local hardware shop or DIY outlet.

Materials

Always read the instructions issued with materials for building maintenance. They will give you important safety information and indicate which PPE you should use. Never use old out of date materials.

Tools & equipment

Always use the right tools and equipment for a job rather than ‘making do’ with other tools, and maintain it as carefully as you would your property.

Access equipment

Before using a ladder, for example, check it for damage (bends or dents in metal, cracks or splits in wood).

Electrical tools

Always use 110v equipment. If hiring, use a reputable hire company. Electrical equipment should be regularly tested — if in doubt, ask to see the test certificate. Avoid trailing electrical cables to minimise the risk of tripping, and always protect electrical equipment and cables, especially joints, plugs and sockets, in damp conditions.

Working at heights

The Health & Safety Executive — http://www.hse.gov.uk/falls/ladders.htm — recommends that only work of a short duration should be carried out from a ladder.

If your risk assessments suggest it is acceptable for a competent person to carry out the work from a ladder, ensure the ladder is in good order, properly footed and tied at the top for the duration of the work. If any one of these conditions do not apply then the work should be carried out in a different way, possibly using suitable access platforms or contractors.

Unless the person who is to do the work is competent in the use of ladders it is always wise to consider asking a contractor to carry out work which required ladder access of more than one storey high.

Potential hazards

Overhead power cables

If there are cables near where you are to work, ask the electricity supply company to put protective sheaths around them before starting to erect your access equipment.

Roofwork

Consider employing a competent person to carry out any work to your roof as many roof covering materials can become fragile over time and even on concrete tiles, if you do not know exactly where to put your feet you can cause a lot of damage to the tiles.

Ground-level or underground work

If it is necessary to lift a cover to an inspection chamber ensure that you have the right equipment, some covers are very heavy and require specialist equipment to lift. Once the cover has been removed try and carry out all work from the surface. Never enter a deep chamber without specialist training. Always wear suitable PPE gloves, boots, etc, even for storm water chambers.

Paint dust

Minimise the risk of airborne dust from lead-based paints by wet sanding, properly disposing of the contaminated water. Do not remove lead-based paint with blow torches or hot air blowers. If the paint is to be totally removed, use a chemical stripper.

Demolition dust

Minimise dust with regular damping down with water sprays, wearing the correct PPE if in close vicinity to the work being done. Take particular care when removing debris that may contain bird droppings (i.e. from gutters or below roosts) as airborne dust particles from this can be particularly dangerous. This material should be dampened and a mask, gloves and preferably a disposable coverall used.

Asbestos dust

Historically, asbestos has been used in the construction of flat sheets, corrugated roofing sheets, rainwater goods, flooring and roofing tiles. Never attempt to remove or repair something that you suspect may contain asbestos based material. Contact a specialist contractor.

Electrical installations

Always be aware of the possible presence of electrical cables, when drilling. Any work around electrical equipment can be hazardous, and work carried out by an unqualified electrician could affect your building insurance.