To borrow from the U.S. Surgeon General, restoring an old house can be hazardous to your health.

You can fall through a rotten floor, step on a rusty nail or drink the benzene someone put in a coffee cup for cleaning paint brushes. All of these things have happened to people who were restoring their homes. To keep them from happening to you, be aware of the potential dangers and protect yourself.

If the project involves tearing down a plaster-and-lathe wall or ripping out rotten wood, buy a pair of heavy leather gloves, a tight-fitting dust mask with replaceable filters, and a hard at.

Wear heavy shoes and use a crowbar to do the work. Get a tetanus booste and assemble a first aid kit. The gloves, shoes and crowbar will help protect you against puncture wounds from rusty nails. If they don't you will need the tetanus booster.

The mask and filters are to keep plaster dust out of your lungs. Extended exposure to plaste dust can cause silicosis, a chronic disease characterized by shortness of breath. Coal miners get silicosis, or "black lung," from prolonged exposure to coal dust.

Tearing down one wall without a mask will not cause that type of damage but it can aggravate allergies and does not help the lungs. A hard hat should be worn whenever there is a danger of chunks of plaster or pieces of the wall falling on your head.

Every old house usually has a closet or shed filled with paint removers and other chemicals used for stripping paint, cleaning a brick fireplace or polishing brass. These chemicals are hazardous. Most are flammable and poisonous. The fumes of some can be deadly.

Exposure to the vapors of methylene chloride, for example, can cause cardia arrest in people with cardiovascular problems. Bezene, toluene, acetone and denatured alcohol also have their health dangers.

All of these products have directions on their use. Follow them. Provide for adequate ventilation. Strip wood outside if at all possible. If the work must be done indoors, open all the windows and doors and use a fan to blow the fumes away from the working area.

Wear rubber gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants. Keep a bucket of water handy and immediately was off any chemicals that touch the skin. Use safety gogies to protect the eyes from unexpected splashes. When you are finished with the chemicals, throw them away. Buy another can for the next project.

There are alternatives to chemicals for some jobs. Paint can be removed with either a propane torch or an electric heat gun. Use the propane torch only for outdoor projects. Be sure to have an assistant with a garden hose ready to put out any fire that may start.

The electric heat gun can be used indoors. Similar to a hand-held hair dryer, the gun melts the paint so it can be scraped off but does not develop enough heat to char the wood.

Whatever the project remember to keep small children away from the working area. Lock up anything that they could use to harm themselves.The chil-proof containers effectively keep adults from getting into the cans but do not trust them to keep children out.

Get additional insurance by putting bottles and cans of hazardous chemicals out of their reach. If the house is unoccupied during the rehabilitation make sure that no one, particularly a small child, can get in.