Written by Wayne Sanderson, a professor of epidemiology in the UK College of Public Health.
The arrival of spring inspires fresh starts and clean slates. Longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures energize homeowners to empty out their garages, fertilize their lawns or start home improvement projects.
However, using chemicals, sprays and equipment to complete household projects always poses some level of risk. To stay safe during spring cleaning, follow these simple safety measures:
Cleaning with chemicals
The state poison control office receives 10 percent of its annual calls during the spring season. While working with cleaning products containing ammonium and chlorine, keep buckets and bottles out of a child’s reach. If you suspect a child has ingested a cleaning product, call poison control immediately at 800-222-1222.
Cleaning solutions with an ammonium or chlorine base can also burn the skin and cause respiratory distress. Always wear impervious gloves while working directly with these products. Because these products release chemicals as mists and vapors, it’s important to ventilate the area by opening a window or wearing a protective mask.
Serious chemical burns also occur when a cleaning solution is absorbed into clothing and remains in contact with the skin. If a cleaning solution is absorbed into clothing, change clothes right away. If the burning and reddening of the skin persists, go to the emergency room.
Pressure washers get rid of the grit and grime that builds up in garages, siding and decks. However, gasoline-powered pressure washers emit carbon monoxide, and over-exposure to exhaust fumes can cause sudden death. Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless gas that can cause confusion, fatigue and weakness in minutes. The safest practice is to never bring pressure washers indoors.
While mowing the grass, remember to protect your ears. Recent research has shown younger yard workers who lacked ear protection while mowing were more likely to suffer from hearing loss. Weed eating poses risks to both the ears and the eyes, as debris can ricochet into a worker’s face. Invest in a protective headset and protective eyewear, which are available at local hardware stores.
For larger-scale renovations, owners of older homes must consider the health risks associated with asbestos. Asbestos is a group of minerals found in the insulation and floor tiles of homes built prior to the 1960s. Scientific evidence suggests an association between asbestos and certain types of cancer, such as lung cancer.
When removing any insulation material that might contain asbestos, workers should wear a respirator approved by the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health. If there is a legitimate concern for asbestos contamination, the safest decision is to let the professionals handle the work.
With the right equipment and knowledge of household safety risks, you can have a productive spring season.