Keep it safe by having a plan

By Chris Coetzee
Occupational health and safety are essential when it comes to working in the plumbing industry.

Since risks are present in every task that we perform, the greatest defence against recurring incidents is a well-thought-out risk management plan. To mitigate the risks effectively, plumbers would need to ensure not only minimum compliance to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act), but overall compliance to a safety management system.

Let us start at the beginning. You have most likely heard the phrase, ‘Safety starts with me’ — well, this is because the effectiveness of any safety system depends on our attitude towards its success. In a simple format, there are four elements to consider:

  • Company compliance
  • Office compliance
  • Employee compliance
  • Site compliance.

With each of the above points comes a set of questions — an audit if you will. This checks the degree of compliance of each section of your business. Most plumbing work taking place on any site would fall under the OHS Act, as well as certain regulations, for example general administrative regulations and general safety regulations. Ensuring you abide by these is the first step towards a safety solution that fits your needs.

Identified risks

Let us take a look at some specific hazards and risks that affect plumbers across South Africa and that could form part of a risk management assessment and plan.

Biological factors

  • Where the work will be carried out: in an isolated room or in the general environment.
  • Whether the work could create airborne particles such as splashes or aerosols.
  • Who will be carrying out the work.
  • Whether others (those not actually doing the work) could be affected by the work, for example visitors, cleaners, and maintenance workers.
  • Whether the work is routine or carried out infrequently — this will have implications on the information, instruction, training, and supervision given to those carrying out the work.

Tools and equipment

  • Are the correct tools being used?
  • Do the employees working with the tools know how to use them?
  • Is there a maintenance schedule for the tools or equipment?
  • Does the use of the tools require specific safety precautions?
  • Has the company set in place a register and checklist method for inspections?
  • The tools and equipment being used will also have individual and unique factors attached to them, such as vibration disease caused from a rock breaker.

Excavations

  • What is the depth of the excavation?
  • What type of tools or equipment are you using to excavate?
  • Are there services in the area for potential excavations?
  • Engulfment, shoring, access, and egress — just to name a few concerns.
  • Has the site been inspected, a risk assessment compiled, and all factors taken into consideration to protect the employees, visitors, environment, and others, as well as the potential damage to tools and equipment?
  • What signage is needed.

Heights

  • Are employees trained in the correct unit standard for working at heights?
  • Do you have a fall risk management plan and risk assessment?
  • Has an inspection been done to consider the fall protection methods needed? This would need to form part of your fall protection plan.
  • Falling to a lower level, falling objects, suspension trauma, safe access and egress, as well as a detailed emergency rescue plan.

Know the law

Section 8 of the OHS Act says that employers need to consider all aspects of their scope of works and ensure that their staff as well as others are in a safe environment. Section 14 places the onus on the employee by promoting an individual commitment to health and safety as well as the encouragement to ensure the safety of others.

The key issue of why compliance is lacking is simple: enforcement!

Due to various factors, many do not regard health and safety management compliance as a key factor in their business. As plumbers, you form an integral part of everyone’s daily lives; thus, keeping yourselves as well as your employees free from risks at the workplace should be a complementing influence. Attention to health and safety is not just about being socially responsible — it also makes good business sense. Essentially, any plumbing company should strive to ensure absence of risk to safety and health of employees and others’ as far as is reasonably practicable.

Increasing employees’ awareness of health and safety as well as introducing a good safety culture system through a thorough and efficient safety system, where management plays a key role in the development and the delivery of a responsible health and safety plan, is the key to successful safety management.

When it comes to health and safety, there should always be a clear goal.

About the author

Chris Coetzee is a director of OHSS Consulting. He is an occupational health and safety practitioner, a SAIOSH member, as well as an IOPSA corporate member, who specialises in the full understanding and development of health and safety systems.

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