Looking after yourself

Whatever the size of the job, personal protective equipment (PPE) can greatly reduce the risk of injury while you are working. Chris Riley from Baxi explains how plumbers and heating engineers can minimise any risk of injury.

While the majority of tradespeople wouldn’t think twice about donning a hard hat, hi-vis jacket and safety boots when working on a building site, in other situations, such as in a customer’s home, PPE isn’t always front of mind – but accidents can happen when they’re least expected. Starting with the head and finishing with the feet, the following PPE options should help to ensure that you stay safe, wherever you happen to be working.

From the top
When you consider that a head injury could cause a debilitating concussion and in worst case scenarios severe brain injuries, or that debris could damage your eyesight or even cause blindness – PPE for your face and head shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Hard hats are often more suitable for construction sites where there is risk of falling objects, but bump caps are perfect to use when doing work in a customer’s home. Low hanging shelves, pipework underneath sinks or beams in a loft are all domestic hazards you could bang your head against. 

To protect the delicate eye area wearing safety glasses is a must. With appropriate safety glasses, eye injuries caused by minor dust chips or flying particles that may be in the air when you are doing routine work in a customer’s home can be avoided. When working with chemicals such as inhibitors it is also wise to wear safety glasses with all-round shielding protection to prevent hazardous substances from splashing back into your eyes.

Dust protection
One of the most common PPE mistakes made by plumbing and heating engineers is not wearing a dust mask. A dust mask will protect you from inhaling dust and debris, which can be common when removing older heating appliances. It might seem unnecessary, but over time all of the dust you are exposed to could lead to bigger respiratory issues further down the line. Just make sure that you do not reuse disposable masks and, if possible, purchase a reusable one for reliable protection time and time again.

Before you even step out of your vehicle, a high-vis jacket is essential to make sure you are visible to motorists driving past, particularly in heavy traffic areas. Many tradespeople can become complacent about this and have suffered the consequences of being hit by a vehicle when exiting a van or when unloading or loading tools.

Handy work
When it comes to working on plumbing and heating appliances, using protective gloves is the best way to protect hands from cuts, scrapes, punctures, chemical erosion and heat burns. A good pair of safety gloves will be made with dexterity in mind however, so it is worth trying on a few different designs and sizes to get the best fit for you. 

Safety gloves are rated based on the level of cut protection they offer too, with one being the lowest protection and five the highest. It is recommended that level five gloves are used by plumbing and heating engineers to ensure maximum protection. When coming into contact with system water, chemicals or contaminated surfaces, nitrile gloves can also be worn over safety gloves to stop them becoming wet or contaminated. Finally, for heavy lifting jobs such as moving an appliance or heat exchanger, rigger gloves will provide more heavy-duty protection.

Don’t forget that your arms can also need PPE, especially when reaching into boiler systems or hard to access spaces to reach pipes. In these scenarios, armlets can be worn in conjunction with gloves.

Knees and toes
With many jobs requiring access to low spaces, there is comprehensive PPE available for your lower body. Knee pads and kneeling mats, for instance, can be used when working at floor level to help cushion your joints and prevent future ligament damage, often caused by repetitive bending and muscle strain. It is common for knee problems to affect tradespeople, especially later in life, so it is worth investing in preventative PPE measures to prevent any knee issues from becoming worse over time.

Safety shoes are another extremely important part of your PPE toolkit. Steel reinforced toe caps and puncture resistant soles prevent foot injuries from heavy falling objects and things like hidden nails. Remember to keep a stock of non-slip overshoe protection covers so that if you are asked to remove your footwear before entering a customer’s home you can still wear your shoes and protect the carpets at the same time. 

Don’t risk it
Not only is effective PPE an investment into your own health and safety, but it could also protect your future earnings by reducing the risk of having to take unpaid time off a job as a result of a work-related injury. Also, if you’re an employer, don’t forget that you could face litigation if you don’t supply appropriate PPE for your workers.


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