Compiled by Tanya Olckers

It makes sense for plumbers to get trained in first aid, as accidents are more likely to occur on site.

Heat stroke can be a danger on hot days.

Heat stroke can be a danger on hot days. Images by Plumbing Africa

Plumbers are always working on site, and working on site means that the possibility of injury or medical emergency is greater. It is important for plumbers to get trained in first aid to be able to deal with injury and emergency.

The crucial thing here is to remember that a trained and certified first aider is needed to administer any care required. Injuries can range from something minor, like a cut on a finger, to something more serious such as heat stroke or heart attack. It is essential to be properly trained to deal with emergency situations.

“As we strive to increase the standard of health and safety in the industry, we highly recommend all plumbers to have basic first aid knowledge,” says Courtne Coetzee from OHSS Consulting.

While the law requires a first aider to be appointed when there are 10 or more employees in a company, it is worth doing a course in first aid, even if the business is small and consists of one or two employees. First aid is a skill that is valuable both inside and outside of the workplace. A first aid kit is required for a staff complement of five or more.

“If it was up to me, I would have at least two certified first aiders per floor in, say, a three-storey building,” says Saroj Rajoo, Director of Training with St John Ambulance. “This way there will always be someone there to administer first aid in the event one of the other first aiders is not available.”

Because plumbers are not located in an office all day, it makes sense that if they are working in pairs, they are both trained in first aid in case one of them is incapacitated on the job

Why is first aid important?

The main aims of first aid are to preserve life. This involves protecting yourself and the casualty from infection and injury, as well as to avoid transmitting germs between you and them. It is also used to protect the casualty from further harm, and preventing the injury or illness from getting any worse. The first aider also needs to provide reassurance and promote a speedy recovery.

If the injury is not minor, the only course of action, then, is to call EMS.

“According to the law – anything that is not considered a section 24 incident and accident (requiring the person to go to hospital) will be considered a minor or first aid injury,” says Coetzee. “This is considered the responsibility of the first aider. These will be treated using the contents of the first aid box. This is why it is important to understand wound care and minor injury first aid treatment.”

First aiders are generally on site in the workplace and available to provide care, or possibly keep someone alive until professional help arrives. They will ensure that EMS are called quickly when needed.

Keep a first aid kit in the van.

One of the critical steps of first aid is to have the ability to recognise emergency first aid conditions that require immediate attention, such as trying to stop bleeding. By applying direct pressure to a bleeding wound, the patient’s blood loss is slowed down or stopped, and this may prevent the condition from getting worse.

“Plumbers may experience falling injuries,” says Rajoo. “It is possible that a fall can cause broken bones or dislocation. A certified first aider will know what to do in terms of scene management. They may also experience strains and sprains and dealing with these injuries is included in first aid training.”

Common injuries in plumbers

Repetitive strain injuries to knees and backs can occur over time. When working with hand tools, especially in tight spaces or hard to reach areas, nipping and pinching injuries can be sustained. Working with hazardous biological agents can also cause illness. Sunstroke and heat stroke when working outside can occur, and if not working securely, there is also a possibility of falling from heights. Plumbers may also experience ‘caught-in-between’ incidents and accidents.

Any injury more than a ‘first aid minor injury’ will need medical attention from EMS or professionals. The qualified first aider must remain calm and take charge of the situation, introduce themselves to the individual (if they are conscious), explain what is happening and what the first aider will do before they do it. Communication is key to maintain the principles of first aid and to adhere to the first aider’s roles and responsibilities. The individual must always be treated with respect and dignity regardless of the situation.

This is a compulsory legal appointment, and the first aider should be readily available during normal working hours. In the case of shops and offices, the employer needs to appoint at least one first-aider for every 100 employees. Any other workplace (not an office or shop) must appoint at least one first-aider for every 50 employees.

Pauline Hassan-Gopal, an instructor with South African Red Cross Society says, “First Aid Training is very important; not only for plumbers. Everyone should be trained in this life-saving skill.”

Both Hassan-Gopal and Rajoo agree that the minimum training to provide first aid would be first aid level one. This will include training in life-saving CPR, making the area safe, and how to handle minor cuts and bruises.

Regardless of whether the individual is trained in first aid or not, they should at the barest of minimums know how to make an area safe, know which numbers to call, and what information to relay to EMS or help lines.

“Reputable certification is important because a person is dealing with another person’s life,” says Hassan-Gopal.

First aid level one deals with dealing with minor injuries and the all-important CPR. The level two course goes over the first level again and addresses upper limb injuries and medical conditions. The third level takes everything a step further and deals with advanced skills and includes lower limb injuries, what to do in case of heatstroke and cardiac events.

A first aid certification needs to be renewed every three years in order to help refresh the memories of the first aiders, introduce them to any changes to the way techniques are performed and to re-certify them. It is important to choose a training provider – like Red Cross or St John Ambulance – that is reputable and provides comprehensive training for potential learners.

Taking first aid certification to higher levels is an excellent idea, particularly since many plumbers come into contact with biohazards. They may even be working with colleagues who have medical conditions like asthma and diabetes or may experience a serious cardiac event such as heart attack or stroke. Knowing how to assist in these situations not only helps EMS do their job when they arrive on the scene, but can also save a life.

EMS needs to be called immediately in cases of a heart attack.

EMS needs to be called immediately in cases of a heart attack.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

CPR is a lifesaving skill that comprises artificial circulation (chest compressions) and artificial ventilation (breathing). Swift administration of CPR can save lives. Attending a first aid level one course will equip you with the necessary CPR knowledge and skills.


Dealing with electric shock

Do not approach the person until you know the area is safe.

Switch off all electrical items if you can, and switch off the main electricity.

Do not use a wooden stick or something similar to separate the person from the appliance.

Call EMS immediately.