Respect your safety

I consider myself a generalist maker. My builds often include electronics, woodwork, sewing and more. I'm by no means an expert in all of them, but I can usually muddle through with the odd online video to help with problems that come up. I particularly enjoy pushing myself to try new media and techniques but does mean that I have to be extra careful with the 'unknown unknows', the things you don't know that you don't know that can suddenly crop up and cause problems.

Last week, I was working with a small amount of cement-based mortar. This is something I've done a few times, so didn't think too much of it. One scoop of cement, four of sand, add water until you've got a loose paste and go for it.

As I mixed this paste with a trowel, a single drop splurted out the mix and landed right in my eye. I wasn't wearing eye protection.

I rinsed it out and, as it's a chemical, called 111 (the UK non-emergency medical advice line), and they advised a rapid trip to the accident and emergency department at the local hospital.

One danger with cement is that it's very alkaline (with a pH of about 12), and this can cause problems for the eye. After rinsing it out as thoroughly as possible at home, the hospital gave me an addition litre of eye washing fluid to counteract the alkalinity. This was followed by a pH testing strip under my eyelid (not an enjoyable experience), and a yellow dye to check for other damage to my eye.

Overall, it was a pretty unpleasent experience that I wouldn't recommend, but one useful thing has come out of it. I now have some wonky stones cemented in my garden to forever remind me of the importance of proper protective equipment.

Many of us makers aren't experts in all the various tools and techniques we use, and that means we have to be extra cautious when using them. My personal rule has now changed from 'wear protection if I think something is dangerous' to 'wear protection unless I know something is safe'. We're all soft, fleshy beings wielding power tools capable of rapidly turning us into minced meat and using toxic chemicals so dangerous they're banned as weapons of war. My experience was trivial compared to many accidents, and I'm fully recovered from it with no lasting effects, but not everyone is so lucky.

Follow proper safety protocol and making shouldn't be dangerous, but that's no reason to be complacent about safety. Remember: there's only one of you. Look after yourself.

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