Safety should be the number one priority on all worksites, including for plumbers. A variety of plumbing jobs, both big and small, involve risks that put workers in danger of illness and injury. Twin Electrics & Plumbing take plumbing safety seriously, for both our teams and our customers. As experts in the field, we know the risks and how to mitigate them to keep everyone on-site safe.
On this article:
- Safety Risks and What to Avoid
- Working at High Heights/ Falls
- Repetitive Movement and Manual Handling
- Confined Spaces
- Biological Hazards
- Mould and Asbestos
- Hazardous Substances and Dangerous Goods
- Hand Tools and Electricity
- Hearing Loss
- Extreme Temperature Injuries
- Burns, Sunburn and Heatstroke
Safety Risks and What to Avoid
Working at High Heights/ Falls
Plumbers often work on jobs at high height. Working at height poses safety risks, particularly fall risks. Falls can result in serious injury, even being just a few feet off the ground is an accident risk. To prevent the risk of falling:
- Use fall protection devices, such as scaffolding.
- Utilise work positioning systems, such as a rope access system, to secure the worker at all times.
- Use a fall injury prevention system, such as an industrial safety harness or a safety net.
- Use a ladder, employing it safely for the duration of the task.
Repetitive Movement and Manual Handling
Repetitive motion injuries affect workers who are completing similar activities on a regular basis.
These injuries develop over time and can be notoriously tricky to identify. Plumbers and other tradespeople regularly overlook repetitive motion injuries. Some of the most common types of repetitive motion injuries include:
- Soft tissue damage to the shoulders, neck and wrists.
- Back injuries, affecting ligaments, muscles and disks.
- Muscle strains and sprains.
Worksites should be laid out in a way that minimises having to pull, push, or carry loads and equipment. Plumbers should avoid repetitive work tasks for extended periods to reduce the risk of a repetitive motion injury.
Confined spaces offer a range of challenges for plumbers working in them.
Sewerage systems can release toxic gases which can lead to collapse, unconsciousness and death. A lack of oxygen poses similar risks. Before any work begins in a confined space, such as a pit or tunnel, risk assessments of the worksite and safeguards must be completed. Employers need to establish work practices that ensure there is no risk of a worker being overcome by an unsafe atmosphere. Safeguards against these risks include appropriate breathing apparatuses, lifelines being attached, and ensuring workers are monitored by a coworker from a safe location.
Trench collapse is another real danger that can lead to injuries and fatalities. Trenches must be constructed and reinforced so that there is no risk to workers who are installing or repairing pipes and other fixtures.
Biological hazards, such as sewerage, are standard on plumbing worksites. Exposure to raw sewage can enter the body through the nose or mouth, particularly if a person drinks contaminated water, by hand-to-mouth transmission, through open wounds, or by inhaling.
To ensure safety when handling sewage in plumbing:
- Assume anything touched by sewage is contaminated.
- Do not eat or drink in any sewage handling area.
- Wash hands well with soap and clean, hot water after touching any surface or object that may be contaminated by sewage and before eating or drinking.
- Immediately clean and disinfect any wound that comes into contact with sewage.
- Change out of work clothes before leaving the worksite, bag and launder separately from other clothing.
- Wear appropriate PPE: this will include rubber boots and gloves, overalls and adequate eye protection.
Mould and Asbestos
While a homeowner’s nightmare is a mould infestation, it might not immediately register as a risk to a plumber. In plumbing jobs, mould can be found in panelling, bathrooms, and under sinks, creating a safety hazard. Plumbers may be working directly in a location affected by mould. Inhaling mould spores can inflame the airways, causing nasal congestion, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and throat irritation. Prolonged exposure can reduce lung function and cause chronic health problems such as asthma. Those who suffer from asthma or allergies are more likely to have more severe symptoms when exposed to mould. Identifying mould and using appropriate safeguards such as respirators can help mitigate the risks posed by mould.
Asbestos exposure events happen frequently to plumbers, greatly endangering their health and safety. Expsoure occurs because plumbers are often working in places with an unknown history. Newer buildings will not have any asbestos materials inside. However, it’s impossible to be sure from the outset with an older property that no asbestos-containing materials remain. Exposure to asbestos over time leads to build up in the body and will lead to life-threatening conditions.
Plumbers must establish whether or not the building has used asbestos in the past to create a safe working environment. This is the best way to avoid inhaling these dangerous fibres that can eventually cause mesothelioma.
Hazardous Substances and Dangerous Goods
There are a variety of hazardous substances in plumbing jobs that create safety risks. They can include:
- fluxes (solder)
- hydrochloric acid
- degreasers and solvents
- caulking compounds
Lead in particular is a common and highly dangerous plumbing safety risk. It is a cumulative poison, and is incredibly toxic, leading to serious long term health effects. Lead sheet, flashing, PVC products, lead solder and many plumbing fittings all contain lead. Plumbers who have been working with lead must wash their hands carefully before eating. Food should not be consumed on worksites where lead dust is present.
Hand Tools and Electricity
Hand tools are dangerous when not used correctly. A common cause of accidents when using hand tools is using the wrong tool for the job. Your employer should make sure you are provided with the appropriate equipment for each task, with directives on how to use them safely. Employers should also have a maintenance program to make sure all tools are in safe working order.
Common injuries from hand tools are to hands and fingers, which could be cut, broken or crushed. Eye injuries are also common, caused by pieces of material flying off while being cut or ground by powered tools. Such injuries can lead to long periods away from work and sometimes result in permanent disability.
Suppose hazards cannot be eliminated by safe working procedures alone. In that case, you should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect you.
PPE may include:
- Safety glasses or goggles.
- Earplugs or earmuffs.
- Protective gloves.
- Overalls or other close-fitting clothing.
- Safety shoes or boots with reinforced toe-caps.
Maintenance on electrical equipment such as hand tools is incredibly important. Any faulty electrical equipment must be immediately withdrawn from use. It should be tagged ‘FAULTY – DO NOT USE’ and removed from service until it has been repaired.
While plumbers are not qualified to undertake electrical work, their work can bring them into contact with 240-volt wiring. Drilling into walls when connecting water services can be hazardous. Plumbers should establish the location of all electrical wiring before commencing work. Potential consequences of electric shock include loss of consciousness, muscle spasms, numbness or tingling, breathing problems, headache, problems with vision or hearing, burns, seizures, and irregular heartbeat.
WHO reports state that up to 48 percent of plumbers have reported hearing loss while on the job. This can be due to banging tools, noisy pipes, and electronic machinery, which can lead to hearing damage that affects you on and off the job.
Extreme Temperature Injuries
Hot water services store water at very high temperatures. Work must be carried out carefully to avoid scalds and burns. Unexpected releases of hot water or steam could result in severe injury and permanent disfigurement. Hot water systems should be switched off and allowed to cool before work begins. If otherwise, procedures must be in place to ensure that the work can be completed safely. If any incidents occur, first aid and emergency procedures must be clear. You should not work on hot water services alone if there is a risk of an injury.
Burns, Sunburn and Heatstroke
The Australian sun is known for its brutality and severity, especially in the warmer months. Heat stress, sunburn and skin cancer are all possible consequences from prolonged exposure to UV rays from the sun. Short-term risks of working exposed to the sun can include sunburns resulting in blistering and peeling skin, acute skin reactions with certain drugs and skin creams, and sore, swollen eyes. Long – term, skin cancers, premature ageing, and more severe eye issues such as cataracts are possible consequences.
Heatstroke can also occur as a result of working in periods of high humidity. Where possible, strenuous work should be scheduled for cooler periods in the day. Alternatively, the rotation of workers should occur to ensure that sun exposure occurs in short bursts and remains limited and manageable.
When it comes to safety and plumbing, the professionals know best. A professional plumber has the training and expertise to complete jobs safely while giving you top quality results. Twin Electrics & Plumbing are your plumbing experts. With affordable rates and an emergency call-out service, you will rest assured that we have the skills and know-how to help you with all your plumbing needs.
At Twin Electrics & Plumbing, we have more than 30 years of experience; our qualified technicians will sort any plumbing situation efficiently.
For all plumbing, enquiries contact us on 03 9808 7555, or via the online form. Twin Electrics & Plumbing attend a wide range of plumbing jobs for domestic and commercial needs and are your premier plumbing service in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.