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Plumber's Crack and a 5WH Review of Plumbing SWMS Resources

Plumber's Crack and a 5WH Review of Plumbing SWMS Resources

Quality SWMS resources foresee dangers, reduce risks and shine a light on cracks that demand a response - especially when it comes to plumbers. As we explore some industry-specific safe work method statements, options and workplace safety, a few plumbing puns will undoubtedly flow. Don't let that throw you, however, because we're going to consider some 'fascinating' issues. 

Every industry has specific dangers and safety requirements - plumbing is no different. Though planning and responding require more than safe work method statements, they are especially relevant in plumbing and are an appropriate focus point from which to work. After all, following plumbing SWMS protocols will literally keep you out of the s***. 

Since our 5WH reviews for construction and electrical were well received, we thought we'd do the same for plumbing. On this occasion, that means we are going to consider:

  1. Why respond to the cracks?
  2. Who is responsible for lifting their game?
  3. What makes a plumbing SWMS effective?
  4. When do these work at their best?
  5. Where can you access a cracking good SWMS? 
  6. How can you check out your options? 

Finally, we'll give you some nail-biting options to consider… but if you're a plumber, you've probably trained yourself not to do that. :)

Why Respond to the Cracks?

Plumbers are famous for being number one regarding number twos, ingenious invoicing and the infamous 'plumbers crack'. Sure it's a play on words, but just as that famous plumber's crack is largely avoidable, many of the less visual dangers of the trade are avoidable also. But unlike the all too obvious butt-crack, the risks in plumbing are less detectable. 

The consequences of being slack in this area are sometimes deadly, sometimes life-limiting, and always expensive both to the worker and the employer. Sure, we made a joke about staying out of the s***, but in reality, the consequences are no joke. 

We take integrity seriously here at OSS, so I want to point out that plumbing-related injuries are NOT a leading WHS statistic - certainly not for the severe injury and fatality categories. Nevertheless, we learn from Worksafe Australia that from 2008-09 to 2012-13 plumbers were the third most at risk of falls from height. So there are issues.

Also, we know from talking to our clients that the following are genuine WHS issues for plumbers:

  • Exposure to hazardous substances (e.g. sulphur dioxide, lead, adhesives, solvents, toxins and carcinogens). 
  • Exposure to biohazards, including raw sewage. 
  • Proximity to flammable or combustible materials.

Unlike Chuck Norris (who can scare the sh** out of the pipes), plumbers must get in there and make sh** happen. So even though we can laugh about plumbers' crack, we shouldn't laugh about the rest.

Who is Responsible?

Let's get another integrity-related statement out there: Plumbing SWMS use is optional when not performed in a legislated high-risk construction work activity. Nevertheless, they are:

  • Increasingly common,
  • Will often be expected when tendering for government and commercial projects, and
  • Have become a 'go-to resource for keeping workers safe.

This increased expectation of plumbing SWMS use was perhaps inevitable. A workplace is a dangerous place, it can be litigious, it is highly regulated, and safe work method statements are an effective tool for change.

So who has to lift their' crack-responding ways? Every PCBU does, as does every safety officer and worker who works on a job where plumbing SWMS requirements exist!

What Makes a Plumbing SWMS Effective?

To be effective a SWMS template needs to be well designed. A document that merely contains relevant information will not be enough. An effective safe work method statement is both legally compliant and helpful to your workers. 

To satisfy legislation and also be effective, the document must address content, design and support needs. A good plumbing SWMS will therefore combine the input of:

  • WHS experts who are across the legislation and regulations,
  • Tradespersons and experts with experience and broader knowledge,
  • Document designers who understand worker's situational realities, mindsets and needs, and
  • Support personnel who assist Safety Officers when required.  

In the following list of things to look for, the first nine items are legally required. If you want to be more than 'covered', however, and if you want a plumbing SWMS that is effective, you'll also want the last four.

Your safe work method statement must:

  1. Comply with the work health and safety legislation.
  2. Comply with relevant regulations and codes of conduct. 
  3. Comply with applicable Codes of Practice.
  4. Contain all the necessary information.
  5. Identify if it is high-risk construction work.
  6. Breaks work activity into logical and sequenced tasks.
  7. Specify any hazards and risks those tasks involve.
  8. Describe the measures that will control them.
  9. Describe control measures implementation, monitoring and review.
  10. Do all this while clearly communicating what is essential and who is responsible.
  11. Do all this while providing but not distracting with additional content.
  12. Effectively direct workers to this additional data when and where appropriate.
  13. Command attention and respect. As we have suggested elsewhere, an effective SWMS says, "Careful! Slow down, plan, think and follow these EXACT steps." 

When do SWMS Resources Work at Their Best?

There are SWMS habits that we recommend. Many of these suggestions are also legally required, while the others are extra practices that make a remarkable difference.

Use plumbing SWMS resources in a targeted, deliberate and precise way. Don't overuse them. As we mentioned back in July, limiting their use is better, so you don't saturate your workplace and dilute their effectiveness. 

Ensure they are accessible. Plumbing SWMS documents must be kept at the worksite. They must also be accessible in a known location. Contrary to rumours that sometimes circulate, every worker does NOT need their own copy. Still, they must be aware of them and understand the hazards and controls stipulated by the statement. 

Ensure you retain any 'Notifiable Incident' SWMS for two years. Responsibility for this retention is on the PCBU. If there are no incidents, there is no need to retain the SMWS beyond the duration of the project. 

Ensure workers know what to do if the SWMS is not followed. Do they know who to talk to? Do they know they should stop work immediately or as soon as it is safe to do so? 

Conduct workplace inspections - ideally with random but reasonably high frequency. Ask workers and supervisors about the hazards, risks and control measures stipulated in the SWMS they are using. Do they know and understand what is required? 

Document these inspections as part of your due diligence compliance.

Review your SMWSs regularly, and edit the control measures as required. Do this with your employees, contractors, subcontractors and safety representatives. 

After every change, let everyone know what is different, how they can clarify any confusion or doubts about the changes, and how to access the revised version. Principal Contractors should be provided with a copy, and any prior versions must be archived. 

Remember your 'Why'. We want workers to be safe and to go home to their families. We also want to minimise the negative financial consequences of incidents, accidents, injuries and regulation breaches. 

Where Can You Find a Cracking Good SWMS? 

A cracking good SWMS will be effective, affordable and well supported. We believe you'll have those expectations met when you invest with us.

You can get cheap and even free templates. Outside of Worksafe authorities, this will usually involve registering for an organisation's mailing list, but not always. There are four comments to make about this practice. 

  1. These SWMS templates are cheap or free for a reason. 
  2. They often lack information, precise risk assessments and expected hierarchies of control. 
  3. They are almost always very basic in coverage and require a lot of work to adapt to your situational specifics. 
  4. Often they require signing up for annoying ongoing advertising.

We don't operate that way. We work too hard to give them away, and my team and I are too cracking good!

So, call us on 1800 304 336 and ask about some options. 

Alternatively, check out our onsite options (explained next).

How Can You Check Out Your Options? 

In addition to making that call - our preferred way to look after you - the option of inspecting resources onsite is available. You can:

  1. Check out our significant range of individual plumbing SWMS items.
  2. Take a look at the SWMS Plumbing Installation example.
  3. Inspect the industry-specific Plumbing SWMS Pack.
  4. Consider the exhaustive Plumbing Industry WHS Pack.

We also encourage you to wade into our competitor's offerings. We're confident on the grounds of both quality and price. 

At our last competitors' inspection, we were the lowest priced amongst the premium providers, both for individual SWMS templates and package combinations. This is remarkable because a couple of our competitors are huge. Even with better economies of scale, we're still delivering more affordable solutions as well as massively superior quality and support!

When you call 1800 304 336 you'll ALWAYS speak to an expert. We don't have salespeople, and no one is reading from cue cards. You might have to leave a message if we're tied up - but that's always for a good reason. We'll get back to you quick though - because plumber's crack is just plain nasty. Call 1800 304 336, or if you'd prefer to use email, just complete the form here.
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