Tech Support For Managing Everyday Risks In the Workshop

Safety advice from PopSci's DIY guru, Vin Marshall

I've accidentally dropped an engine on my foot, set myself on fire, fallen off all sorts of things—and now I'm here to tell you about safety. Four of the biggest risks to DIYers are ones that often don't get taken seriously, but they all can be mitigated with some easy-to-find gear.

Deafness

Prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 decibels (about as loud as traffic on a busy highway) can cause permanent hearing damage. There are several good options to protect yourself, including earplugs that you squish up, earmuff-style headphones and, my favorite, the earplugs on a plastic band, which are reusable, can be taken on and off easily, and stay out of the way of a welding helmet or hard hat. I recommend: Howard Leight hearing bandsHoward Leight

Crushed Feet

Years ago, a hoist holding the 700-pound engine and transmission from my Triumph TR3 collapsed and dropped the entire assembly on my foot. Luckily, the oil pan deformed and I got to keep my toes (if in a slightly modified configuration). Since then, I've worn safety-toe boots. The relevant U.S. standard specifies that a safety toe must withstand a 75-foot-pound impact and 2,500 pounds of pressure. I recommend: Red Wing safety-toe work boots [Image courtesy FindNSave]

Damaged Lungs

By the time you smell something, you've probably already killed off a few cells in your lungs. Even if you're only soldering wires, don't just hold your breath and work quickly. Depending on the nature of the fumes, you should open a window, turn on a fan, or install a fume extractor. At the very least, keep a respirator handy. I recommend: Weller fume extractors [Image courtesy Andreas Heinemann via Wikimedia]

Electrocution

At some point, we've probably all touched an apparently dead circuit that turned out to be quite alive. For a DIYer without the experience of a professional electrician, insulated screwdrivers are an added layer of safety. My electrician buddy points out that you can make your own version by slipping some rubber hose over the shaft of a regular screwdriver. I recommend: Wiha slotted screwdriver set [Image courtesy Karl Baron via Wikipedia]