Spring cleaning tips: Weekend warriors can stay safe with tips from construction pros

We’ve made it. Spring is finally here. While that signals a shift in the weather, it’s also a reminder that it’s time for spring cleaning. But before you dust off those indoor cleaning supplies and attack some outdoor projects, keep in mind that safety should go hand-in-hand with spring cleaning.

Homeowners probably don’t see a lot of similarities between household upkeep and the activities of a massive construction site. However, many of the same safety risks construction workers face exist for the “do-it-yourself” work that weekend warriors hit the toolbox for every spring.

Hundreds of thousands of people injure themselves just “doing work around the house” every year. Many of these injuries could be prevented if people treated work at home the way construction companies approach safety.

It is assumed construction is dangerous work and, indeed, workers must plan for how they will address a variety of hazards every day. In 2016, as a result, 91 percent of Skanska’s job sites in the United States had zero incidents that resulted in a worker missing time from work. We want to get that number to 100 percent. The larger point is that when people respect the dangers they potentially face, and take the time to plan out the work, incidents can be avoided.

Our homes are perceived as safe places, but there really is no difference in risk between a ladder being used on a construction project site and one at your home. By approaching work at home like a construction crew would, we might all spend more time grilling on the patio than recovering from an injury. Below are a few safety tips from the jobsite to apply in your home:

Cleaning the gutters

This is a task that almost certainly requires a ladder. Did you know that a ladder is often the last-resort choice on construction sites for working at heights? When a ladder is used, extensive planning takes place. At home, most people grab the ladder and go, making it no surprise that the Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates there are about 165,000 ladder-related injuries every year.

Before climbing up to clear gutters of accumulated debris, start on the ground. Is the ladder in good shape? How will you stabilize the ladder (e.g. having someone there to hold on)? Keep in mind: Skanska doesn’t allow for extension ladders that haven’t been physically tied to the structure. Where will you put this ladder and is it level?

Once on the ladder, never climb past the third rung from the top. Never lean off the side of the ladder. It may be a bit more time consuming to climb down and move the ladder, but it is safer. Certainly, don’t get the idea to climb onto your slanted roof and work from above. Construction workers would tell you they’d be uncomfortable doing that without tying off properly. Trust the professionals. Incidents on ladders happen quickly and, often, catastrophically. Proper planning can eliminate those risks.

Lawn care

Nothing says spring like the smell of freshly-mowed grass. A lawn mower is probably the top piece of equipment used by homeowners to take care of their property and, where there’s a lawn mower, there’s also usually a trimmer nearby.

On a construction site, specialized equipment like this would require dressing appropriately. Do you do the same at home? For instance, the low-to-the-ground blade would require closed-toe shoes. Something being pushed means the need for gloves to protect the hands from a variety of hazards. The propensity of lawn mowers and trimmers to fling rocks and debris in the air at a high speed would demand a worker wear long pants and eye protection. The noise would require hearing protection. People who work in similar conditions every day would dress appropriately. Why not follow their lead? Lawn care isn’t a fashion contest and you don’t get a lot of second chances when it comes to injuries to your sight or hearing.

Using the right tools for fix-it jobs

One of the leading causes of an incident on any of our job sites is a lapse where a worker uses the wrong tool for a job or uses the right tool the wrong way. If you’ve ever tried to hammer in a nail with the handle of a screwdriver, you’re guilty of this.

Improvising is not a good solution if safety is the goal. Tools are designed to do a specific task very well, but misuse can lead to a variety of cuts, lacerations and… well, do the right Google search and you can find worse outcomes.

Lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling and awkward postures

How many times have you performed a task at home, only to find yourself arriving at work the next day with sore aching muscles?  Ergonomics-related hazards at home are also equally significant and comparable to what we face on a construction site.  Often times, the “how” portion of moving the material from point A to point B gets overlooked in planning of work, because as humans, we tend to be programmed to just pick something up without considering how we are going to do so.  We also tend to ignore warning signs of potential strain type injuries and push through the task in the spirit of getting the job done.

Prior to each task, determine what materials need to be moved and how to safely move them. Do you need a partner to help with any lifting and carrying? Can you utilize a cart at waist height for easier access to materials, versus bending over multiple times throughout the day? Will you be working in an awkward body posture? If so, are you able to rearrange things to place your body in a more natural posture? Another good tip is to perform stretching exercises prior to beginning your task.  Skanska performs stretch and flex exercises every day of every week prior to going to work, as a way of getting our muscles warmed up. It also creates more fluidity around the joint areas, so we are adequately prepared to use our bodies that day.

There’s more…

Sometimes, even things that seem like simple fixes require turning off water, power or gas. An example of this is replacing an electrical fixture that you were waiting for better weather to handle, and turning the power off before doing so.  This is something construction teams are also very familiar with, often taking extra steps to ensure all workers on site know what’s live so they can plan against it. Storing cleaning agents properly can ensure no spills of potentially harmful chemicals, as well. On job sites, that’s usually a legal requirement. In your backyard shed, though, it’s equally important.

Two other common construction site mantras will help eliminate injuries at home, too. If conditions arise that you didn’t anticipate, stop and re-think the plan. Don’t proceed like everything is normal if it is not. Know when to ask for help. If you don’t think you can safely accomplish the task, stop and get help from others.