Plumbing isn’t Earth’s Most Dangerous Job. It’s unlikely you’ll find yourself leaping through roaring flames every other workday. But the job has its dangers.
Sick Building Syndrome and Other Stress
Homo sapiens evolved to walk for miles across open grasslands beneath a vast blue sky. We didn’t evolve to work long hours in confined spaces. “Sick Building Syndrome” is the name for emotional problems that come from too much of this frankly unnatural behavior. Plumbers face this as well as every other ordinary work-related stressor, such as money problems.
Plumbers are exposed to a lot more loud noise than it might seem. Much of that noise comes suddenly and at close proximity. Everything in the plumber’s typical workplace, from pipes to garbage disposals, is capable of piercing, grinding, or cracking noises that wear on the ears over time. The result is hearing loss, which, since plumbers use their ears to help them diagnose problems, can lead to reduced on-the-job effectiveness as well as a generally more difficult life. 48% of plumbers suffer some degree of hearing loss.
Ear-plugs will help, but plumbing is a little different from working at a constantly noisy construction site, and for that reason alone a plumber’s actual hearing loss can be worse. That garbage disposal unit might only be turned on for a total of three minutes in an hour. The trouble is that frequent shifting from quiet to shrieking metal.
The Eyes Get It
Plumbing often requires putting your face, and therefore your eyes, quite close to powerful but damaged machines. Something can go wrong involving anything from sparks to a piece of metal suddenly flying loose at high speed. Making things worse, plumbers are often wedged into spaces that make it impossible to avoid such objects, not to mention hot steam or water from a pipe suddenly breaking.
Use protective eyewear all the time while on the job. Make it a habit. You might feel strange waking up in the middle of the night with your goggles still on, but your eyes will thank you.
Plumbers have to work in some harsh conditions. Sometimes it’s summer in Tucson and the air conditioner doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s February in Minneapolis and the heat doesn’t work. It all comes with the job, and if you’re a plumber you need to be prepared for such situations.
Plumbers should also remember that suddenly entering an extremely cold environment from an extremely hot one, and vice-versa, is also dangerous.
Non-Power Hand Tool Injuries
Even without such a sudden accident such as hitting your thumb with your hammer, repetitive use of non-power tools can contribute to developing musculoskeletal problems later on. Screwing seems particularly hazardous.
The NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)recommends maintaining an ergo metrically correct body posture while working with tools – and good luck with that while you’re working the back of a toilet. It also recommends keeping your wrist straight while hammering. Finally, select tools that have a soft grip. This helps absorb impact.
Plumbers and mold have a way of running into each other due to plumbers having to work so often in dark, moist-to-flooded corners which favor mold growth. It’s all too easy to breathe in mold spores. Symptoms range from coughing to serious upper-respiratory problems. Black mold in particular will make you seriously ill.
Make sure to cover your skin and keep those goggles on. Be sure there’s adequate ventilation. If you suspect mold, cover your mouth and nose with a respiratory mask. By all means let the home or business owner know about the problem. He or she might have a much greater level of exposure than you, and probably has a vested interest in not having mold eat their walls.
Electric Shock and Burning
Plumbers work daily with electrically-powered machines, and with that comes the possibility of getting shocked or electrocuted. Gas is obviously dangerous as well. Open flame is a bit more rare, but plumbers are always in danger of getting burned by surfaces such as hot water pipes, as well as by suddenly-released hot water.
As with so many of these dangers, the only long-term solution is for the plumber to adopt sound safety practices and make them habitual. Keep your tools in good working condition, taking special care of easily-frayed power cords. It’s also a good idea to have at least rudimentary first-aid training.
RSI and Other Musculoskeletal Damage
Plumbers working for Conrad Martens toilet repairs often have to work in tight corners, and often for long periods. That might be fine when you’re 22, slim, and “indestructible,” but the human body can’t handle day after day, year after year, of such strain and repetition. As a plumber, you probably don’t even fit back there well as you once did, and the work is harder on the knees than it used to be. Older plumbers suffer back spasms, RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), and more.
Use the right tool for lifting heavy objects, and, again, learn proper ergometric practices if you want to keep working as an older plumber.
Slipping and Falling
Plumbers fall in several specific situations. Climbing ladders, for instance, especially while burdened down by tools, sinks to be installed, or boxes full of pipe to be installed. Plumbers slip and fall in this situation often enough that it’s the second most common cause of their on-job injuries.
Exacerbating all of this is that the conditions in which plumbers work mean that the ladder’s rungs might be slippery. Be sure to wear proper shoes that will grip those rungs.
Chemical and Biohazard Exposure
Plumbers do the dirty work, and it can make you sick. This work will put plumbers in close quarters with human and animal waste, as well as all sorts of chemical biohazards. The latter includes hydrochloric acid, tar and solvents, adhesives and caulking compounds, solder, inorganic lead, grease, and zinc chloride. This category also includes the parasite family: ticks, chiggers, various worms, and more.
Beyond the protective measures already discussed – gloves, long sleeves, goggles, respiratory mask – plumbers should shower thoroughly after the day’s job. After all, exposure to biohazards and chemicals is the single greatest danger a plumber faces.
A plumber who keeps these job risks in mind, prepares properly, and turns preparation into habit can enjoy a long career and a comfortable retirement. This will be especially true if you also watch out for a Bonus Eleventh Common Plumbing Accident. That would be UV Radiation exposure while welding. Take care!