Plumbing is part of our daily lives. However, it’s not something people give much thought to. They expect their toilet to flush, their shower to be hot, and water to come out of the tap when they need it, but rarely do they think about the work needed to make those things happen.
Plumbers, on the other hand, are fully aware of the work involved in making sure pipes, radiators and drains do what they need to do. But do they also understand the risks?
Even with the best safety planning, working as a plumber comes with plenty of risks. Accidents do happen (that’s partly what commercial insurance is there for), but the best way to avoid them is to be aware of the potential dangers you face in the first place.
Here are 10 of the most common risks for plumbers and what can be done to reduce those risks.
Exposure to asbestos is the number one cause of respiratory death and affects many people in their workplace. According to figures from Cancer Research UK, there are around 2,500 deaths from mesothelioma (a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos) in the UK each year.
Plumbers are often exposed to asbestos because they are working in places with an unknown history. Because of its fire-resistant qualities, asbestos was used as pipe, pump, valve and gasket insulation for years. As a result, today many tradesmen risk coming into contact with asbestos up to 100 times a year. That’s a risk you need to take seriously.
A report by the HSE found that less than a third of tradespeople knew how to correctly handle asbestos in the workplace. So what can plumbers do to protect themselves? There are some key steps they can take: wearing single-use personal protective equipment; not eating, drinking or smoking nearby; and using a vacuum or rag, not a brush, to tidy up.
2 Working at heights
Anyone working at high heights should do so with the appropriate attachment points, harnesses, weather conditions, and regular inspections. Scaffolding or a cherry picker (not a ladder) can also keep a plumber working at height safer. Even just being a few metres off the ground can increase your risk of having an accident.
3 Exposure to dangerous materials
Working alongside human waste, mould, chemicals and biohazard materials comes as part of the territory of being a plumber. These materials can be full of toxins that can pose serious health problems to anyone who comes into contact with them. But with a proper safety and cleanliness protocol, if you do come face to face with nasty or dangerous substances, you can avoid getting sick.
Gloves, goggles, respiratory masks, and long sleeves are all musts when working with hazardous materials – and erring on the side of caution is always the best course of action. Thorough washing and showering after being exposed to such materials is also essential.
4 Slips and trips
Anywhere there is water on the floor, there is an increased risk of slipping over. And when you deal with water as part of your job, this is a risk to take notice of.
Slips, trips and falls can cause serious injury so it is important for plumbers to exercise caution in wet or slippery areas. Another good tip is to learn how to fall properly (head up, body folded in, and landing with palms off the ground). The idea is that muscle memory will kick in if you do fall so you end up with bruises rather than broken bones.
5 Hearing loss
Anyone not working in the plumbing industry might assume it’s not that noisy, however 48% of plumbers suffer from hearing loss, according to figures from the World Health Organisation. Electronic machinery, noisy pipes, and loud tools are part and parcel of working as a plumber – all of which can lead to hearing damage.
6 Injuries to eyes
Plumber risk injuries to their eyes on a nearly daily basis. Flying particles, chemicals, sparks and falling objects can all cause damage – especially when you are working in a confined space. Wearing protective eyewear for every job is essential to keep eyes out of harm’s way. Even if you do not anticipate a job will involve much debris, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
7 Repetitive movements
Doing the same thing on a regular basis can cause repetitive motion injuries. These are the kinds of injuries that tend to be overlooked by labourers but can include: muscle sprains and strains; injuries to muscles, ligaments or discs in the back; and soft tissue damage, for example nerves, ligaments and tendons in the wrists, arms, shoulders and neck.
To avoid damage caused by repetitive movements, you need to avoid pushing, pulling or carrying heavy equipment and loads, maintain a good posture and keep wrists straight whenever possible.
8 Injuries caused by hand tools
Tools used in the plumbing trade have become more powerful over time, but hand tools are still a staple in the trade. Plumbers need to bear in mind that hand tools can contribute to musculoskeletal disorders, as well as causing broken bones, fracture and cuts when not used properly.
9 Working with flammable items and/or electrics
Working as a plumber, you soon realise that there’s often a labyrinth behind walls and floors. When plumbing gets too close to gas and electrical lines, the potential for danger is high. Plumbers need to do what they can to ensure that gas lines stay intact and electricity and water never mix. Wear protective clothing, shut off power and water when required and be super vigilant working in potentially flammable or electric situations.
There are very few jobs that can be described as stress free. Being a plumber comes with its own set of pressures and concerns. Each job is unique so it’s virtually impossible to prepare in advance. As a result, it can be stressful walking into unknown situations. For plumbers just starting out in the trade, they want to make a good impression and meet customer expectations. For more experienced plumbers, there could be the stress of managing employees and ensuring a healthy bottom line.
If left unchecked, stress can have a significant impact on our health. A lot has been done to raise awareness of mental health, but workers need to be supported by their managers to keep stress at bay. If you are a plumber and are feeling stressed, make sure you speak with your manager or a doctor to work out what steps you can take to reduce that stress.
There’s a lot to think about as a plumber, from fixing leaks to staying safe. But that’s not all. You also need to make sure you have the right cover for your business. With commercial insurance you can get tailored protection to suit your business needs. Speak to the team at Insurance Choice to find out more about commercial insurance for your business.