Safe Plumbing & Gasfitting: OHS and PPE
Working with and around potentially explosive gas pipes, working at heights and working with asbestos are the most dangerous elements of being a plumber and gasfitter while heat stress is also a potential issue.
Chief operating officer of Master Plumbers Association of NSW, Douglas Greening told Pro Choice Safety Gear the vast majority of plumbers regularly deal with these WHS hazards.
“They are often penetrating walls and especially floors, largely in kitchens and bathrooms as well as eaves,” he said.
One of the most dangerous tasks for a plumber is digging a trench from the street to a house, according to Greening, who said the first step should be calling Dial Before You Dig.
“And even if you’ve called Dial Before You Dig, you can’t assume their depth is correct or the gas pipe hasn’t shifted sideways or someone else hasn’t moved it.”
“You can only accept Dial Before You Dig as an indicator,” Greening said, adding that plumbers should first dig a trench by hand before using a backhoe or risk an explosion from penetrating a gas pipe, rupturing a water pipe or even opening an electrical conduit.
He also said that when using an oxy torch, it should always be placed on a piece of timber or other material to keep it off the ground and to act as a barrier from other services.
“If you put your oxy torch down and are not aware that a gas pipe is only covered in two inches of sand and gravel, then it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
Greening also said that when cutting with an oxy torch, material should be in place to catch sparks before they hit gas pipes or other services.
“The other issue with gas fitting is pressure testing the system prior to the first light… or face the possibility of an explosion,” he said, adding that before any work is carried out on a gas system, the main cock should be turned off or the area isolated and the location of a street stop valve determined.
PPE considerations for plumbers should include boots, gloves and wraparound eye protection as a minimum, along with ear protection when using power tools.
“Eye protection is critical because if you do get a flare-up, your face might get burnt but your eyes will be protected,” he said, adding that a full face mask offers the best protection but their use is very rare.
Steel-capped boots should be worn unless working at heights, when Dunlop Volleys will provide better grip.
“Steel caps usually have acid proof soles which aren’t good for grip on roofs,” Greening said.
Clothing for plumbers when gas fitting must be cotton drill long pants and long sleeves.
“If you do get an explosion it will likely be in a trench, so it is going to flare up around you. Cotton drill will smolder but won’t burn and melt like synthetics.”
Plumbers should also be aware of and understand the potential for electric shock when working with metallic water services if there is a fault in the electrical supply system on the premises or in the street. This includes a video for the correct methods for testing for electrical currents potentially hidden in metallic pipes.
Greening said that Master Plumbers offer members a full safety management system dedicated to plumbers.
“It covers a whole set of policies and procedures such as safety analysis, toolbox talks and SWMS. It’s all in a format they can adapt to their organisation.”