By Chris Coetzee

Ergonomics is important for the long-term health of plumbers and, in fact, all tradesmen. How do you best take care of your health? Chris Coetzee from OHSS Consulting has a few ideas.

Chris Coetzee is an internationally qualified consultant in health and safety.

In short, for a plumber, ergonomics is the process of arranging workplaces and systems so that they fit the people who use them.

 According to the International Ergonomics Association: “Ergonomics is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimise human well-being and overall system performance.” 

The goal of ergonomics is to create a safe, comfortable and productive workspaces by bringing human abilities and limitations into the design of a workspace.

Some Ergonomic hazards include:

  • Awkward postures
  • Bending
  • Compression or contact stress
  • Forceful exertions
  • Insufficient rest breaks
  • Lifting
  • Lighting
  • Noise
  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Reaching
  • Repetitive motions
  • Static or sustained postures
  • Temperature extremes
  • Vibration

When we look at how ergonomics impact us, we must perform a survey and a risk assessment to understand the risks and hazards and then apply a system’s approach for anticipating, identifying, analysing, mitigating and reviewing ergonomic risks.

We always look at the 3 domains, but the primary focus is the SYSTEM (See the picture on how each element impact the individual)

  • Physical
  • Cognitive
  • Organisational

Activities performed by plumbers could cause pressure on the hands or wrists, repetitive twisting hand motions. Additionally, you perform work that requires excessive force or activities that require holding unsupported arms.

  • Plumbers should know the ergonomic related hazards associated with all their tasks and perform all works in a manner that is both comfortable and ergonomically efficient.
  • While performing any type of plumbing work, why not think of the below precautions:
  • Implementation and compliance to the HSE plan, task-based risk assessment.
  • Avoid extreme positions including bending, twisting and excessive reaching.
  • Take 5 minutes rest periods, hourly.
  • Tools and equipment should be positioned so the wrist is in a neutral position, oriented to reduce the potential for cumulative trauma disorders of the hands and wrists.
  • Reduce reaching by setting up work situations so that the distance between the worker and the object being handled is minimal.
  • Obtain assistance in lifting heavy objects whenever that task may be more than can be safely handled. Avoid lifting more than 25kg alone whenever possible.
  • Bulky loads should be carried so as to permit an unobstructed view of the intended path ahead.
  • Ensure a good grip before lifting.
  • Lift gradually. Lift slowly, smoothly and without jerking.
  • The back should be kept nearly vertical or straight and the lifting done with the leg muscles, which are large and strong.
  • Avoid bending. Do not place objects on the floor if they must be picked up again later.
  • Avoid twisting. Turn your feet, not your hips or shoulders. Leave enough room to shift your feet so as not to twist.
  • Avoid reaching out. Handle heavy objects close to the body. Avoid a long reach out to pick up any object.
  • Do not be tempted at the last moment to swing the load by bending or twisting your back.
  • When two or more persons carry a heavy object that is to be lowered or dropped, there shall be a prearranged signal for releasing the load.
  • When two or more persons are carrying an object, each employee, if possible, should face the direction in which the object is being carried.
  • Keep in good physical shape. Get proper exercise, maintain a good diet and make sure you are well rested.
  • Employ the ‘plan, do, check, act’ (PDCA) concept.
  • Injuries resulting from bad ergonomics are preventable
  • The benefits of good ergonomic practices range from reducing business costs, improved productivity, quality, employee engagement, and creating a better safety culture at work.

Reduce costs

Plumbers performing tasks under bodily stress can lead to ailments that can cost your business money. While the costs associated with ergonomics such as special chairs and workstations can seem like a barrier at first, the long-term results are healthier and more productive employees, which are best for business. By utilising good ergonomic practices, you can reduce your company’s costs associated with lost work time in the short-term, and workers’ compensation long-term. 

Improve productivity

When employees are in pain, they focus on those pains, not their work. Studies have shown that the greater the pain, the more productivity plummets. Properly set-up workstations create happier employees. A comfortable workstation, allowing good posture and fewer motions can even increase work productivity. When was the last time you complained of lower-back pain, tired shoulders or painful knees?

Improve quality

Awkward working postures can be distracting and uncomfortable for plumbers. Poorly designed work areas can lead to frustration and employees who don’t do their best work. Having good ergonomic practices means plumbers are comfortable and productive, being able to deliver their best quality work.

Improve employee engagement

When you invest time ensuring you and your employees are healthy and safe, it will be noticed. When employees feel taken care of by their company and are comfortable doing their job, this will increase morale and reduce staff turnover and absenteeism. It’s not about making it easy, it’s about making it sustainable!

Create a better safety culture

Protecting your own health and having healthy employees are your most valuable assets as a business. The accumulation of the four previous points will lead your workplace towards better performance from staff and help foster a robust safety culture.

An ergonomics programme needs to ensure that the entire view of the organisation is considered. A key focus area of an ergonomics programme needs to be on the interactions of people with tools, tasks and technology within the working environment.

Any ergonomics programme must follow a participatory process where everyone needs to be involved, from the top-down and bottom-up.

An ergonomics programme is not a once-off, but a strategic continuous improvement process – and as we have seen, it makes a positive impact on the entire business.

For more information, please contact IOPSA or download a copy of the Ergonomics Regulations of 2019.