Dangers Of Plumbing

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Last updated Mon 02 May 2022

While plumbing may be a core component of modern life, it is not without its dangers. Primarily, plumbers are exposed to the risk of physical injury during the course of their work, though there is also a minor systemic risk inherent to the concept of large populations sharing water sources. Fortunately, modern plumbing regulation significantly reduces the scale of risks inherent to plumbing work, and while there are still risks present in plumbing, it is overall a safe industry in Australia, both for plumbers and the general population.

Injuries To Plumbers



Plumbers are exposed to a litany of physical risks while they perform their work. These risks range from physical injury due to repetitive motion through to fatalities, though these are rare in modern plumbing work.

Aptus Plumbing Hearing Protection
Aptus Plumbing Hearing Protection

Minor Injuries


Many of the injuries sustained by plumbers are inflicted by their use of hand tools. This is commonly the result of misuse, whether it be due to carelessness, negligence, or external factors that made proper use difficult to achieve. While hand tools have become increasingly powerful in recent decades, the injuries they cause are still relatively minor, typically leading to either cuts or fractured and broken bones.

Plumbers are also routinely asked to work in extreme conditions, which can lead to injury. If plumbing has failed due to either freezing or overheating caused by environmental factors, a plumber may be called to repair the damage before those factors are mitigated, thus exposing them to the same conditions. As a result, there is a history of plumbers being injured in both extreme cold and extreme heat.

Repetitive stress injuries are also common within plumbers, as the work involves regular repetitive motions. These usually manifest in either the soft tissue of the shoulders, necks, and wrists, or as injuries in the ligaments, muscles, and discs of the back.

Major Injuries


Plumbers can suffer serious, life-altering injuries, though today, these are typically the result of gross negligence. For instance, if bacteria or other foreign objects are introduced to a plumber's eye, they may lose sight in that eye entirely. Similarly, the loud noises plumbers face every day in their line of work can also cause damage to their hearing, resulting in permanent hearing loss over time.

Mould and asbestos are also common threats to plumbers that can cause serious injuries. If either of these harmful substances are breathed in by plumbers while they work, they can both lead to life-long health complications that may result in a premature death.

Some of the enclosed spaces plumbers regularly have to work in, such as sewers and storage tanks, can also present a problem for plumbers, as they typically feature restricted levels of oxygen. Without oxygen to breathe, it is possible for plumbers to become trapped in these spaces and expire.

An example of the protective earmuffs plumbers use to prevent hearing loss
An example of the protective earmuffs plumbers use to prevent hearing loss

Risk To The Population



Ever since humanity started sharing water sources, waterborne diseases have been a consistent threat. Today, there are a number of viruses and bacteria that can live for quite some time within plumbing systems, such as legionella. These infectious diseases are swept up into the drinking water supply via the plumbing system and are then able to infect others, which is a particular problem in locations such as hospitals, which typically share a limited number of independent plumbing systems for the entire campus.

Mitigation



Fortunately, there are various techniques available to help mitigate the risks present in plumbing. While performing work, plumbers are held to a high level of regulations and standards, all of which dictate how the various risks can be individually managed. For instance, the risk of eye injury is easily mitigated by the use of safety goggles, in the same way hearing loss can be staved off with protective earmuffs.

Asbestos is currently one of the hardest risks for plumbers to mitigate properly. While the material is typically not used in the construction of new properties, it was used extensively for quite some time in the past, and its use was usually poorly documented. As a result, many plumbers still need to explicitly ask homeowners to confirm whether or not asbestos is present within their home, and some will choose to wear protective breathing equipment regardless of the answer they receive.

Communicable diseases in the water supply are similarly difficult to pre-emptively treat in some high-risk locations. While homes are installed with backflow prevention devices to ensure, amongst other reasons, that no bacteria or viruses can flow back from a single property into the water supply for an entire town, the same cannot be effectively managed within dense campuses. If a hospital were to detect a legionella outbreak the same day it occurs, there could already be a number of infected individuals before anything could be done to mitigate the outbreak.

Fortunately, instead of reactively responding to the presence of bacteria and viruses in the water supply, plumbers have instead managed to make it systematically harder for known illnesses to thrive in our plumbing systems. By reducing the opportunity for sewerage and drinking water to interact, as well as better protecting the pipes used to supply water to homes and businesses, the incidence of water-borne disease today is significantly lower than it has been in the past.

An example of the protective googles used by plumbers, as well as a common facemask
An example of the protective googles used by plumbers, as well as a common facemask

Plumbers are exposed to various bacteria and pathogens as part of their daily tasks
Plumbers are exposed to various bacteria and pathogens as part of their daily tasks


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