Why PPE is so important
PPE or Personal Protective Equipment is seen as the last stop in preventing harm to plumbers and heating engineers at work, after every effort has been made to remove or minimise hazards.
It is covered under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, which says employers must provide suitable PPE for employees exposed to health and safety risks, unless the risk has been controlled by other means. A similar duty applies to self-employed plumbers and heating engineers in supplying (and wearing!) PPE for their own use.
Providing the right PPE might seem like such a chore but it will not only help keep your employees safe but will also reinforce your image with customers as a responsible company that looks after the staff and cares about their health and wellbeing. That will help you retain your workforce and as a result, reduce the costs associated with retraining new people – happy, well looked after employees will not want to leave!
You mustn’t forget either, that even when working as a self-employed, you have a responsibility to provide and use adequate PPE and not doing so could be invalidating your business insurance!
What types of PPE should I consider?
There’s a whole stack of PPE you might consider - head protection, respiratory protection, eye and hearing protection, hand and arm protection and foot and leg protection. No doubt you’ve got a pretty standard kit list, but don’t forget that a job’s risk assessment may throw up the need for different PPE.
For domestic plumbing and heating jobs, trousers or coveralls may well be first go-to item.
Many work trousers now come with built-in knee pads made of gel, artificial leather or rubber. For coveralls, there’s the standard polycotton option (often with hi-vis panels) and also heavier flame-retardant versions: these are often mandatory in commercial building environments.
Hand protection ranges from lightweight disposables to chemical gloves and general work gloves. We wouldn’t be without the latter when carrying hot water cylinders or copper tube that hasn’t yet been deburred!
Good old safety boots with a steel toe cap and manufactured to EN345 should definitely be on your shopping list. Eye protection too, especially if you’re cutting materials, welding, or working in dusty environments – you should always have in mind that the hazards you or your employees face may not be directly associated with plumbing but as a result of working alongside other tradesmen, i.e. dust in plastering.
Speaking of dust, Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’ve worked in a newly plastered house, for example, you’ll know that the dust just keeps on coming! It’s simple to keep it safely out of throats, noses and lungs with respirators and dust masks.
If you’re working on Mr Smith’s hot water cylinder it’s unlikely you’ll need ear protection, but that may not be the case if you’re on a new build development where there’s still piling going on. Ear protection can take the form of ear muffs as well as disposable ear plugs.
You might also want to protect your gear with its own PPE – for example you can use your smartphone through this tough case
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when you’re having a brew between jobs! Read on to find out how you can get one of those totally free!
When should I provide PPE?
Process may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but PPE should be provided in a systematic way, for example when you have a new starter, or when someone changes roles. Keeping records of what’s been issued, along with replacements and maintenance needed, will save you a whole load of hassle. Plus, if you’ve bought something duff, it’ll help identify it early on.
Don’t forget to provide PPE training for your employees as well: it’s easy to assume someone knows how or when to wear PPE or how to store it to avoid damage, but we all had to learn once. J
Employees should know from their training that they need to speak up if their equipment goes missing or needs repairing or replacing, so they’re not exposed to hazards.
Design and fabrics have moved on a lot over the years, so it’s worth making sure you’re up with the latest trends if you need to kit out a new starter or replace equipment. You’ll also need to make sure the PPE complies with the catchily-named PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425.
In summary – our top 5 PPE tips
1. Make sure you have risk assessed your work so you know what PPE you need to provide for you and your employees
2. Ensure your PPE complies with the PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425
3. Provide PPE training for your employees
4. Keep records of PPE you’ve issued and have had to repair or replace
5. Keep up to date through the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
Stay safe folks!
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