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Home Tradesman Insights A plumber’s guide to avoiding risks on site

A plumber’s guide to avoiding risks on site

Identifying dangers and taking steps to reduce hazards is the best way to be proactive, but is it always that easy?

Being a plumber is a lucrative trade, and the longer the labour shortage continues, the greater the rewards for tradespeople already qualified. However, plumbers are also putting themselves at risk every time they walk on site.

What follows is a rundown of key dangers while plumbing, and how to avoid them.

Asbestos

Research conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has found that asbestos kills around 20 tradespeople a week. And the chances are, unless risks are identified beforehand, you may not be aware you’ve been exposed. Symptoms can take decades to present themselves, and can lead to serious health complications, such as lung cancer.

The UK is home to the least energy-efficient buildings in Europe, which presents a huge opportunity for tradespeople looking to help property owners reduce their carbon footprint. However, the age of our buildings also pose potential problems.

Properties built after the Second World War, in particular commercial properties, were constructed with a large amount of asbestos. Since, there has been a gradual ban of asbestos, which was commonly used in sprays, insulation, paints, and plasters. However, a surplus or materials has meant that properties built before 2000 could contain asbestos.

In March 2023, the HSE launched the Asbestos & You campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos.

Guidance includes checks before starting work, during construction, and steps to take if asbestos has been disturbed.

Before you get stated

• Consider doing some basic asbestos awareness training
• Ask if a survey has been done or if a plan or asbestos register is available
• Check if the building was built or refurbished before the year 2000
• If possible, plan the job to avoid disturbing any asbestos

On the job

  • Beware that hidden asbestos could still be found even if a survey has been done
  • Be aware of what to watch for and where it hides
  • If you suspect asbestos, assume it is until proven otherwise
  • If you’re not trained to work with asbestos and/or you are not prepared – STOP WORK

It’s important to stress that the risk of being exposed to asbestos applies to a number of trades, not just plumbing. If you work in the following sectors the Asbestos and You campaign applies:

  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Joiners
  • Painters and decorators
  • Plasterers
  • Roofers
  • Shop fitters
  • Gas fitters
  • Heating and ventilation engineers
  • Demolition workers
  • Fire/burglar alarm installers

Awareness is key, and adequate training should be completed to ensure that when asbestos is discovered, steps are taken to avoid it and have it dealt with.

For more detailed advice on asbestos safety, visit the HSE website. You can also find free asbestos surveys, awareness templates, and training, by setting up a free account at HASpod.

Slips, trips, and falls

Around 31% of nonfatal work injuries are due to slips, trips, and falls, so it’s crucial you’re aware of the hazards before work begins. As a plumber, you’re likely to find yourself working in awkward spaces, surrounded by wet surfaces, and at times, in poor lighting.

Additional lighting may be required in areas where there is no fixed lighting available. It’s important that you have the means to identify structural risks, pipes and cables, as well as signs of asbestos (outlined in the previous section).

Uneven surfaces must also be approached with caution, and adequate safety checks made to avoid serious injury. If surfaces pose a risk, mark them clearly so colleagues can identify the same hazards. And take steps to keep work spaces tidy and clutter-free. Tools, pipes, and fittings left on walkways and access areas are potential dangers and can also lead to trips and falls.

Personal Protective Equipment

Suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be worn at all times, checked to make sure it’s fit for purpose, and follows the HSE’s hierarchy of controls.

The hierarchy of controls should be followed in order and make up the body of on site risk assessments. PPE is listed last and, although crucial is considered a final resort once all other hazards have been assessed.

The hierarchy of controls are as follows:

  • Elimination – physically remove the hazard
  • Substitution – replace the hazard
  • Engineering controls – isolate people from the hazard
  • Administrative controls – change the way people work
  • PPE – protect the worker with equipment

The type of PPE required will vary depending on the scope of the job, but here are some essentials you should have on hand for all contracts.

  • Head protection: avoid knocks to the head when working in tight spaces and reduce impact from falling debris.
  • Eye protection: shield against dirt, dust, grime, and bacteria landing in your eyes.
  • Gloves: gripping and twisting can take its toll on your hands, and you’ll want a barrier between you and corroded or rusted pipes.
  • Masks: filtration systems are a must if you’re working in areas with high levels of dust and other harmful fibres that can be absorbed into the lungs. Check your mask fits correctly and is not damaged.

Remember, risks on site are not specific to your trade, and there will be times when you’re working with tradespeople with different skill sets. Safety applies to everyone, and when a colleague enters the environment for the first time, they should be made aware of risks and hazards and provided with adequate PPE.

Water Damage

Mistakes happen to the best of us. Even plumbers with excellent reputations will slip up, and if you’re lucky, the error will be minimal. However, more serious mishaps can result in leaks, soaked plasterboard, and soiled carpets.

In most instances, repair costs will leave the client no choice but to file a claim against you. And if you can negotiate with the customer to fix the problem, the costs will come out of your back pocket. This could mean turning down other work because you’re no longer available or having work cancelled because you received negative reviews.

If you do have to submit a claim with your insurance company, you will need to prove you followed the correct procedures and regulations. That you were unaware the job was completed with issues and that the work you carried out met the standards expected for your trade.

This can be a complicated process and will force your client to be patient while the claim is being processed. It’s not easy to prove pure intentions when the damage is already done.

Insurance is a necessity, as mistakes are sometimes unavoidable. But if you want to keep your reputation intact a job well done, with assessments made to ensure no errors have been left behind, is the best approach.

Best line of defence is to be proactive. Set expectations and explain to the client that work that meets satisfactory standards, will take time, and checks will need to be made before work begins and after it’s complete. If you’re on a larger site, carry out a thorough risk assessment and double-check colleagues are qualified to carry out their assigned tasks.

Training to be a plumber is an investment, and building a successful business takes years. Mistakes happen to the best of us, and if handled professionally, they will be forgiven. But if shortcuts are taken and a job is pushed through to meet deadlines, proving your innocence with the client and your insurance broker will be a challenge.

Insurance

If you’ve installed a faulty flush, bodged sealant around the shower, or left leaking pipes, chances are you’ll be called back in for repairs. And if water damage is more severe, you could see yourself replacing walls, ceiling panels, or ripping out the bathroom you just fitted.

This is why it’s crucial to have a comprehensive plumbing insurance policy in place to cover the cost when things get out of hand. A policy with Tradesman Saver is tailored to your trade and includes cover for:

  • Water damage to a property caused by a leak
  • A client falling over equipment
  • Bodily harm to property damage as a result of your work

Public liability

Public liability protects you if a member of the public or a third party gets injured on site. When this happens, you’re going to need robust protection to keep your business afloat. Personal injuries are taken seriously, and legal fees and compensation costs can add up quickly.

To back you up, a public liability policy with Tradesman Saver includes the following at no extra cost:

  • £1 million public & products liability insurance (with an option to increase to £2 million, £5 million)
  • £10,000 financial loss cover (with an option to increase to £50K)
  • Worldwide liability cover for temporary work abroad for up to 14 days (excluding the USA and Canada)
  • £250,000 legal cover + 24-hour legal helpline

You also have access to a range of insurance add-ons, that can be tailored to meet the needs of your business.

Additional cover

Tools and equipment cover comes highly recommended, and will protect your tools from theft. This cover complements your public liability insurance with added benefits, such as:

  • Up to £10,000 tool cover per person
  • Includes cover for theft from unattended vehicles
  • Covered on an All Risks basis anywhere in the UK

And if you hire staff employer’s liability is required by law. This cover includes:

  • Up to £10 million cover any one claim
  • Optional cover for working partners
  • Temporary staff can be covered for up to 75 man-days
  • Cover for bona-fide sub-contractors up to 25% of turnover

Tradesman Talk

What advice would you give plumbers to help avoid mistakes on site? And what steps do you take to deal with customer complaints?

As always, leave your thoughts in the comments below, and click the social links to share this article.

Until next time, make sure it’s Tradesman Saver.

Mark McPherson

Mark McPherson has an MA in Creative Writing and has been crafting content for over a decade. He writes for a range of niches, including the construction industry and insurance sector. Mark has worked internationally as a content writer and teacher.

All articles by Mark McPherson

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