What are the regulations regarding PPE?

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become something that the general public has heard about since the pandemic, however, PPE has always been part of what plumbers need in order to do their jobs. From the basics needed for on-site work such as hard hats and hazmat suits for those tough jobs involving hazardous materials, plumbers are no strangers to PPE.

South African law provides that every employer needs to provide and maintain, as far as reasonably possible, a working that is safe and without risk to the health of employees (Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993). The law also asks that as far as reasonably possible, hazards to health and safety need to be established.

This is where PPE comes in, because we know that building sites and other plumbing work calls for a little extra protection and greater caution. And, if you are running any kind of plumbing business – big or small – the onus is on you to provide PPE for yourself and your workers.

“This would include things like hard hats, safety boots, eye protection, ear protection, respiratory protection and gloves that are suited to the job at hand,” says health and safety consultant, Chris Coetzee. “Regardless of whether this is written as law or not, at the end of the day, protecting the health and safety of yourself and your staff is ultimately in your best interest.”

However, just having PPE in your van is not enough. Your business needs to have a PPE policy in place and ensure that staff are trained in the use of this equipment, and staff need to know why specific PPE is needed in certain circumstances.

At the same time, the law also asks employees to take every reasonable step possible to make sure that they and other employees are safe.

When it comes to plumbers, there are some basics involved – a hard hat with chin strap for working on site, overalls or protective clothing, body harness for working at heights and eye and ear protection.

What are the specs that hard hats need to meet?

Justin Anley from Halsted points out that hard hats must comply with SANS 1397:2003. “This specifies physical and performance requirements for industrial safety helmets that are intended to provide protections to the wearer against falling objects,” he says. “The date of manufacture is normally stamped or moulded onto the hard hat shell.”

Hard hats should be replaced after no more than two years of regular use or three years from date of manufacture, if unused. The suspension should be replaced every 12 months. Hard hats have to be replaced once damaged, for example if they have any chips or cracks or lose their glossy finish. They should also never be altered.

Gloves and masks

Wearing chemical gloves that are one-day old with a tear in them is pointless. Gloves need to be regularly inspected and regularly replaced.

Depending on the intended use of the respiratory protection they are also subject to the following acts:

  • National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications Act (2008) – (Homologation Certificate)
  • Mine Health and Safety Act (Act 29 of 1996)
  • Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993)

Disposable masks should not be re-used. The mask must be checked for dirt, damage, breathability and must not have a loosened fit on your face.

Filters for respiratory masks should be replaced as soon as you can smell or taste the contaminant, or when it becomes difficult to breathe. Once a filter is opened it should be replaced within six months if not used. These filters come with an expiry date and an issue date can be written on the filter. Keep unused respirators in their closed box and store in a dry, non-contaminated area.

“In dusty conditions, a respirator with a dust filter can be used,” says Coetzee. “Where there is toxic gas of below 2%, a canister mask can be worn. This also has a cartridge which will react chemically with toxic vapours to make it safe for the user. Unfortunately, this has a limited lifespan. An airline respirator, or self-contained breathing apparatus is used for entering spaces where the atmosphere is unsafe for normal breathing. Workers need to be trained in the use of these apparatuses.”

These respirators do not supply oxygen.

Do not use these respirators or enter in an area where:

  • The oxygen concentration is unknown or is less than 19.5% (e.g. tanks or other poorly ventilated areas).
  • Contaminants or their concentrations are unknown or are known to be immediately dangerous to life or health.
  • Do not use in explosive atmospheres.
  • Particulate or gas concentrations exceed levels fixed by the applicable health and safety regulations.
  • The requirement for leak tightness is unlikely to be achieved if worn against a beard or facial stubble.

Always test the air quality for oxygen levels and explosive gases before entering confined spaces using the correct gas monitoring equipment.

Safety shoes

Safety footwear must conform to NRCS under the EN ISO 20345 regulations. This requires safety shoes to have front-foot protection against a 200-joule impact. This is the amount of energy the toe region can absorb before breaking. Safety shoes must also have midsole protection that protects the wearer against puncture or penetration.

Again, protective footwear must be appropriate for the environment and the job. Safety footwear came a long way and is highly specialised, for example, shoes with composite toe caps for electrical work, arc boots, welding boots, heat resistant boots and the regular construction boots everyone knows. 


What about hazmat suits?

A hazmat suit is used in many different industries – from medical to mining agriculture to rescue services.

The suit covers the entire body and is designed to protect against dangerous substances for example chemicals, biological agents and gases that pose a physical or biological threat to people, wildlife and the environment. Most suits are covered by a set of hazmat levels and divided into different levels. To determine what hazmat suit you must wear, a risk analysis must be done – for example the type of hazard you are dealing with, the toxicity levels, concentration and the time the wearer will be exposed to the substance.

General workwear may also be utility jackets and utility pants with knee pads.

“The importance of PPE cannot be emphasised enough as it is all about protection, minimising injuries, illness and potentially save your life,” says Anley, “There are a lot of factors to consider when purchasing PPE, but the most important is what the PPE will be used for.”

And what some don’t consider is safety belts and harnesses with safety ropes for those jobs done inside tanks or enclosures or when working at heights. And yes, that does include working inside a client’s roof.

There are many dusty areas that plumbers go into, and for these, masks and even breathing apparatuses are important. Dust, toxic gas and chemicals can cause harm to the lungs and it’s imperative to preserve the health of employees – and yourself.


What to look for when purchasing PPE

  • The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) of 1993 requires employers to provide their employees with PPE that is appropriate for the hazards they face.
  • The appropriate PPE for the task at hand is needed. A Safety Officer would be able to present a list of PPE to comply with all the safety regulations at a site.
  • For persons with diabetes, a simple scrape or small cut can become infected much more quickly than in a person who does not have diabetes – this is just one reason to wear cut resistant gloves.
  • The ergonomics of the equipment used must also be considered.
  • Comfort will encourage the worker to make use of the correct PPE.
  • The quality of products meeting the correct standards is also of significant importance. This will give the user peace of mind that the product underwent stringent tests to ensure their safety.