By Chris Coetzee

Use your best safety device – THINK!

Chris Coetzee. Supplied by Chris Coetzee

Chris Coetzee is an internationally qualified health and safety consultant.

As a plumber, you need to keep your head in the game! You are constantly thinking about competitive pricing, building a business, selecting good employees, and providing quality services to your clients. All of this requires that you think clearly about what you want, how you are going to achieve it, and where your business is heading. Occupational Health & Safety is often left up to instinct or reaction, rather than a proactive plan to manage safety.

Construction sites and other areas where plumbers work present employees with hazards and risks that could affect their health and safety, as well as the livelihood of the company. Accidents cost money and often the immediate costs are foreseen, while the underlying costs can creep up and disrupt operations, affecting our bottom line.

Before we think of putting a hardhat on, let’s put our thinking caps on first.

Before you start any project, scope or work, you already have all the information on what jobs and services you will provide to your clients. You have the tools and machinery to do it, and you have a competent and trained workforce that understands the methods of working. So then, what are we asking you to do extra for Occupational Health & Safety? Only one thing: use your best safety device – THINK!

You can use the acronym S.L.A.M to assist you: STOP | LOOK | ASSESS | MANAGE

Stop – Think through the task. In other words, engage your mind before your hands.

Look – Identify the hazards for each of the job/task steps. (At the workplace always spot the hazards).

Assess – Determine if you have the proper knowledge, training and tools to do the task. (The effects of the hazards on people, property and the environment).

Manage – With effective controls, and advise others of the correct procedure. (Remove or control hazards and use the proper equipment).

Let’s dig a little deeper into how we go about using the SLAM process.

There is a natural way for any installation to begin, proceed and conclude. You may be learning the ropes or have already mastered the art of performing any plumbing installation. Either way, you should definitely know where a pressure valve and safety valve go on a geyser installation – placing it in the incorrect position could cause a serious accident, resulting in injuries and damage, as well as repercussions on your business.

This is why before you hand over any installation, you do a check. In fact, you might even be using SLAM without knowing it.

Stop – before you hand over the installation so that you can verify the installation. Look – you check whether the installation has been done according to the SANS codes or perhaps the installation guide you have. Assess – you determine if there are any issues that need to be resolved and if you find them, then you can stop an accident before it occurs. This brings us to our last step. Manage – you now manage the issue by fixing it and using it as an opportunity to teach the individual who installed the geyser, or you congratulate them on a job well done when it’s done as per specification.

We think you get the point: production and safety go hand-in-hand – in fact, safety is part of the work you are performing every day. So why give it so much emphasis when it’s a process that seems so natural?

When we need to implement change or shed light on an area of concern, we need to emphasise the current problems and try to foresee the potential outcomes. When it comes to plumbing, we know the current state of non-compliant installations and the potential this has on the industry as a whole. In fact we hear about it at almost every plumber’s evening and find it regularly spoken of in blogs and on podcasts. This is because it’s a current issue with potential future disaster. Occupational Health & Safety is shedding light on the fact that every day, on multiple sites, accidents that are avoidable are occurring at an alarming rate. These accidents are claiming the lives of thousands of employees, who ultimately leave behind loved ones and dependants.

What could be more important than preventing the potential death of an individual!? Especially since we have tried-and-tested methods that can assist each person on a daily basis to protect themselves and others from the hidden dangers lurking at every corner of a site.

A pressure valve is placed onto the inlet pipe and regulates the pressure coming in – too much pressure and it will begin to drip – and this allows the system to ensure the correct pressure goes to the geyser. A safety plan is developed before a project so that all relevant legislative requirements can be met to ensure everyone’s safety on site. Planning after the fact would be like placing the pressure valve on the pipe before the end user’s tap – pointless and dangerous!

A safety valve is placed on the outlet pipe to regulate heat – overheating would allow it to open and discharge the steam into an overflow discharge pipe. Planned task observations (PTOs) are performed while employees are working so that a manager can determine if the safe work procedures are being followed, and if the risk assessment has clearly identified all applicable hazards and potential risks. Why? To let off a little steam? No, to allow for a potentially dangerous situation to be controlled before it explodes into an accident.

By now you have your thinking caps on and you have engaged your brain. Let us then answer a few frequently asked questions from plumbers just like you.

A worker must adhere to site rules.

A worker must adhere to site rules.© Plumbing Africa

Q: Who is responsible to provide the safety file?

A: The simple answer here is the employer. For an explanation to this answer, we look at the law. The law in this case is the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993, and in particular, we want to look under Section 8: “General duties of employers to their employees”. (It is to be noted that the definition of “Employer” in the act is: “employer” means, subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), any person who employs or provides work for any person and remunerates that person or expressly or tacitly undertakes to remunerate him, but excludes a labour broker as defined in section 1(1) of the Labour Relations Act, 1956 (Act No. 28 of 1956).

This section clearly identifies that business owners are responsible for a safe system of works, in other words, a system of how work is to be done safely. There are multiple documents that can be used for this purpose – Safe Working Procedures, Risk Assessments and Health & Safety Plans, but the entire system would then need to be documented and communicated to the workforce. This would essentially create within a company a “safety file”. This documented body of proof can then be edited and adjusted to comply with client specifications, giving you a “site-specific” safety file. Bottom line: the company who does the work is responsible for developing the safety file.

A hard hat is required on site.

A hard hat is required on site.© Plumbing Africa

Q: What must I do now that I have a safety file?

A: Having a file is only the start of ensuring work runs safely on any site. Safety files are designed to be living, breathing systems that need continuous management and improvement. Thus, in a safety file, you will find registers, checklists, daily safe procedures, weekly task observations and monthly inspections that need to take place. All of these items require that responsible persons take care to inform and train the workforce to mitigate any risks they have identified and continue to pro-actively prevent workplace incidents and accidents.

In simple terms again, a safety file is not meant to be thrown into your backseat, cupboard or inside a draw. It’s designed to be starting point – the continuous reminder and the concluding safety process that keeps the company compliant and the workforce safe.

Register for free to gain access the digital library for Plumbing Africa publications