Reality shows like “Renovation Rescue” and Rehab Addict” inspire many to get off the couch, pick up a hammer, and give DIY a try—but a new study reveals these shows may have a scary side effect: People are wielding tools they have absolutely no idea how to use—and getting injured as a result.
Rob Eley, research director at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, Australia, has noticed a spike in DIYers in his ER ever since renovation reality TV shows surged in popularity. To investigate the link between real estate reality TV and flesh wounds, Eley and a colleague, Kirsten Vallmuur, are kicking off a yearlong research project, inviting patients to elaborate on how their accidents happened—including whether it all started with an “Extreme Makeover” marathon.
“We will be asking what caused the incident, where they bought the equipment, what training they had, and what safety precautions, if any, they had taken,” Vallmuur explained.
And just in case you’re envisioning small nicks that can be stitched right up, consider the story of study participant Andrew Armstrong—a Coolangatta resident who, in August 2015, lost four fingers using a power saw at home.
“It happened in a split second,” he told ABC Australia News. “I looked down, and my fingers were gone.”
The ‘TV effect’
These DIY disasters are hardly just happening in Australia. A survey by the Itasca, IL–based National Safety Council reveals that 26% of homeowners in the U.S. who’ve dabbled in DIY have suffered injuries—or someone in their home has been injured.
“My colleagues and I call it the ‘TV effect,’” says contractor Marc Clement, founder of myfixituplife.com. Many home improvement hosts are eminently skilled, he explains, and that can leave viewers with the false impression that these projects are easy.
“With precious few exceptions, TV narratives minimize, simplify,- and often downright lie about the complexity and danger of home improvement,” Clement says.
Marc Lamber, a personal injury lawyer at Fennemore Craig, says he has experienced a surge in calls from people whose home improvement projects went awry.
“With the uptick of DIY reality shows, it’s no surprise we’ve seen an increase in calls from people who have suffered injuries as the result of power tools, especially saws,” Lamber says.
Many think faulty, malfunctioning tools are to blame, but Lamber says the tools are often fine. “Although there may be alleged defects, in some instances, there are simple safety measures that could have been followed to reduce the risk,” he adds.
How to minimize the dangers of DIY
All of which is a long, scary way to say that before you embark on any DIY project—inspired by reality TV or otherwise—make sure to take some simple precautions:
• Know your tools
“Learn about the tools before you try and make something with them,” says Clement. “For table saws, learn how to use a push stick [which keeps hands out of harm’s way] and decide if you need out-feed support [a table or surface that receives what’s just been fed through the saw].”
• Gear up
You should also wear safety gear such as goggles and gloves. According to the National Safety Council study, 41% of people injured say they got hurt because they weren’t wearing protective gear—even though in many cases it was well within reach.
• Know your limits
And if you get a sneaking suspicion that a certain home improvement project might be over your head, “when in doubt, don’t perform a project that is beyond the scope of your experience and comfort,” says Lamber. “This is particularly true when using power saws that, with one small mistake, can cause catastrophic injury.”
• Take a refresher
And even if you became a pro at wielding that nail gun with ease during your DIY kitchen reno five years ago, if it’s been lying in storage for a while, keep in mind your skills might be rusty.
“Most people who are do-it-your-selfers, like me, you forget about the instructions that you bought five years ago,” Armstrong says. “And every time you pull a tool out, you really need to understand how to use it again.”
• Proceed with caution
Last but not least, make sure to take what you see on reno TV with a healthy dose of skepticism.
“Just because XYZ host on DI-whatever shows skill with a tool in a show designed to make the entire process look simple, that doesn’t have an effect on anything other than one’s perception,” says Clement. “Where steel cuts wood is real life. The blade is spinning at 3,500 rpm and will snag a loose garment, spit dust in your eye, or take off your fingers with astounding ease.”
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