Like many trades, plumbing can be a dangerous job.
And like many trades, plumbers are often self-employed or employed by small businesses which don’t have the resources to have a dedicated workplace health and safety officer. This places an even bigger onus on workers to ensure that everyone takes responsibility for workplace safety, identifying hazards and working to eliminate or at least minimise risks.
There are a few common safety considerations that plumbers need to be particularly aware of and consider carefully when developing Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) and completing Job Safety Analysis (JSA) processes. It is important to take all reasonably practicable measures to keep the project, employees, customers and yourself incident and injury free.
Plumbers regularly come into contact with biohazard waste. It’s the nature of the job, but that doesn’t mean you should be complacent about it. According to Safe Work Australia, communicable diseases from work-related exposures to biological hazards – including sewerage and human bodily waste – have been estimated to cause 320,000 deaths across the globe each year. In addition to sewerage and human bodily waste, other biohazards that plumbers are regularly exposed to include mould, bacteria and algae. Don’t risk it – make sure appropriate protective clothing and equipment is used.
Flammable and combustible materials
Natural gas and oxyacetylene torches - sounds like a match made in hell, doesn’t it? But every day, plumbers need to work on metal pipes and sometimes this requires the use of welding equipment. Make sure that appropriate precautions and checks are made to ensure that gas is fully turned off and that no leaks are detected before starting work.
For plumbers, the primary risks to health and safety relating to confined spaces relate to contaminants, including airborne gases, vapours and dusts that may cause injury from fire or explosion, and harmful concentrations of any airborne contaminants. For example, one plumber in NSW was fined $220,000 after an employee suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning. The other potential hazard for plumbers in confined spaces is that of engulfment, or drowning, if water sources are not adequately cut off.
The Safe Work Australia confined spaces code of practice outlines the necessary steps and precautions for avoiding illness and injury.
The Masters Plumbers Association calls electricity ‘plumbing’s hidden killer.’ Metal pipes are often conductive and electricity can be earthed through the pipes. Insulated gloves should form part of a plumber's tool kit, as should a plumbing voltage monitor, bridging conductors and a volt tester. Gloves should be checked prior to every use and replaced every 12 to 14 months. Electrical equipment like bridging conductors should be regularly checked, with appropriate tags on the equipment to verify their safety.
Remember, if there is any sign of electricity, it is not safe to continue on the project. Get an electrician to detect the source of the electricity and safely disconnect it prior to starting work.
What can you do?
Ensure safety is always top of mind by conducting regular reviews and completing Safe Work Method Statements for each project. There are many simple online packages to make this easy, with mobile friendly apps to make sure that the necessary paperwork is always available.