Handyman: Protect ears, eyes and lungs during projects

Glenn Haege
Special to The Detroit News

Before you start this weekend’s project, make sure you have all the right equipment. That should include protective eyewear, ear plugs or masks, depending on your project. Whether you are using power equipment or climbing ladders, you want to make sure you complete the task safely – without needing a trip to the emergency room.

Many of us just don’t take the same safety precautions the professionals always do. And while there are many simple tasks around the house that don’t seem like they could be harmful, they could end up causing you and your family serious health problems.

Dr. Christopher Hughes, the medical director of adult critical care services and division chief of pulmonary medicine at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit,, said common cleaning agents such as bleach and ammonia can cause irritation of skin, mucus membranes, eyes, as well as bronchial tubes and lungs.

“There can be long term complications, including asthma, as well as other chronic pulmonary diseases as a result of using these agents,” he said. Dr. Hughes said many other cleaning agents, as well as many paints, contain volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), which can cause similar pulmonary reactions, and can have increased risk of various cancers.

Even drywall and wood dust can cause irritation, as well as acute and chronic obstructive and restrictive lung diseases, along with lung cancer.

“Ventilation is the most important factor to reducing the risk for the usual household exposures,” he said. “Opening windows, using exhaust fans and dust collection equipment will help.”

For increased protection when being exposed to dust, Dr. Hughes said disposable N 95 or N 100 paper masks do help. However for increased exposures, and particularly when exposed to mists and paints, he recommends a reusable P 95 or P 100 respirator face mask, such as the the masks made by 3M.

“If you can still smell the paint or other product you are spraying, you are not getting full protection from the mask,” he added.

Your hearing is also susceptible to problems when you use power equipment, because the high decibels emitted from these machines can cause serious hearing damage. It is a general rule that continued exposure to noise above 85 decibels (dB) can cause hearing loss. Yet according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,, the maximum exposure time for 110 dB is less than a minute and a half before it could cause hearing damage.

Unfortunately, that means every time you crank up your snow thrower, weed whacker, chain saw, circular saw or leaf blower, you are close to that 110 dB range. That is why it is wise to use some kind of ear protection, such as ear plugs or ear muffs, that is designed to protect hearing against noises at or exceeding 85 dB.

Eye safety is also important when doing projects, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology,, recommends that every household have at least one pair of American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-approved protective eyewear to be worn when doing home improvement activities that could create a risk for eye injuries at home. It is best to buy protective eyewear that is certified to meet or exceed the ANSI Z87.1 2010 standard.

Things that could lead to eye injuries include use of hazardous chemicals or other substances that could damage your eyes upon contact, and flying debris or other small particles that could fly into the eyes unexpectedly.

That means when you are using oven cleaner and bleach for cleaning, mowing the lawn, using a power trimmer or edger, or drilling or hammering screws or nails into your deck, walls or hard surfaces like brick or cement, you need to have the proper protective eyewear.

The good news is that all of these safety products are available at your local hardware store or home center. Online, a great source is Grainger,, where manufacturing companies and professional workers who are exposed to these potential safety hazards buy their products.

For more home improvement advice, call “The Handyman Show with Glenn Haege” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can also be heard on more than 135 radio stations nationwide.