Safety is an extremely important part of plumber training. From the first day of class, to your final day as an apprentice—plumbing safety should be a top focus of study, and the highest priority during practice.
Don't think plumbers face many (or any) real dangers on the job? Think again. Like many skilled tradespeople, plumbers work with special equipment, in awkward positions, under extreme conditions, and with hazardous materials.
Common sense and a healthy dose of caution will protect you from most potential dangers as a plumber. But there are specific procedures and protocols you'll learn about in training, which will play a key role in keeping you safe at work.
Here's a round-up of 10 safety tips you'll practice in class, and why they're worth remembering throughout your entire career.
1. Use Protective Equipment for Eyes, Skin, and Lungs
Plumbers get exposed to a range of hazardous substances and products on job sites—like lead, sulfur dioxide, asbestos, bird and rodent dropping, sewage, and solvents.
It's crucial for plumbers to always wear protective gear for the eyes, skin, and lungs: goggles, gloves, and a face mask.
You'll need gloves to protect your hands from germs and infection, goggles to keep your eyes free from waste water, flying objects, and chemicals, and a mask to filter contaminants in the air.
2. Don't Forget About Your Ears
Most people don't realize that plumbers often work in very loud environments. Construction sites and industrial zones create high noise levels, which over time, can seriously damage your hearing.
A World Health Organization report revealed that 48% of plumbers suffer some degree of hearing loss throughout their career. So, keep your ear plugs handy.
3. Watch out for Electrical and Fire Hazards
Water, electricity and flammables don't mix. Be wary of any electrical or gas-fired parts that may be attached to the plumbing piece you're working on. Or, maybe you're simply working near a power source.
Shut down power and gas lines before you get started, and be sure to de-energize and lock-out equipment before you start work on it (you'll learn Lock Out/Tag Out procedures in plumber training).
4. Use Slip-resistant Boots & Mats
Slips, trips and falls are a number one cause of accidents on work sites. Investing in good quality, slip-resistant boots, with a protective toe box, is a must for plumbers—as it is for all tradespeople.
You should also consider using rubber mats, placed around your work area, to reduce fall hazards from puddles of water.
5. Watch Out for Mold
Mold commonly hides in paneling, under sinks, and in bathrooms—where conditions are warm, humid, and poorly ventilated.
Prolonged exposure to mold can cause allergic reactions, difficulty breathing, nasal congestion, skin rash, and flu-like symptoms.
If you're working in a space where mold is present, make sure you wear your gloves and face mask to avoid skin contact, and inhalation of toxic spores.
6. Know Your Chemicals
Plumber courses always include training in WHMIS: Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. This training teaches plumber students how to identify common chemicals used in their work.
You must learn how to interpret the hazard symbols on chemicals, warning you about things like toxicity, flammability, and reactivity. And students are also trained in how to safely handle, store, and use these products.
Get in the habit of checking labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), so you don't accidentally hurt yourself, or others, by handling hazardous chemicals incorrectly.
7. Be Careful Where You Eat & Drink
You should never eat or drink in the middle of a job site. Imagine all the chemicals, waste products, and contaminants on surfaces and in the air...this is definitely no place for a snack.
Plumbers should eat only in designated clean areas, and after changing their clothes and washing up.
8. Protect Against Burns
Boiling water and scalding steam: two common dangers for plumbers. When working on hot pipes, plumbers should always wear heat-insulating gloves and eye/face shields.
And don't forget to drain pipes before you open them.
9. Change & Seal Your Clothes After Working with Sewage
This might seem a bit extreme, but consider this: if you're working with sewage, you've been exposed to waste and/or contaminated soil, which has likely spattered onto your work gear.
If you head home wearing those same clothes, you're basically a walking biohazard. You'll spread those contaminants everywhere you go, including onto other people.
Sewage pipes and septic tanks are breeding grounds for potentially dangerous bacteria (such as E. coli), parasites, funguses and viruses.
When dealing with sewage, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends changing before you leave the work site, sealing your clothes in a plastic bag, and laundering them separately from other clothing. Better safe than sorry.
10. Wash Your Hands... a lot!
Always remember, as a plumber you're in constant contact with contaminants and chemicals. From waste water to chemical products to dust to mold.
Washing your hand thoroughly, and frequently, is a simple but highly effective way to manage exposure to those elements. Plus, it will minimize the chances of passing germs and bacteria onto colleagues, clients, and loved ones.
This list of safety tips for plumbers is by no means exhaustive, but it's a good start for anyone beginning a plumber career. You can expect to cover all of these topics in plumber training, as well as industry-standard safety instruction in:
- working at heights
- confined spaces hazard awareness
- aerial platform and scaffold safety
- safe use of propane in construction
- electrical safety for plumbers
Interested in learning more about what is covered in a pre-apprenticeship plumber program?
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