The physical demands of being a tradesperson

In 2019, more than 79,000 construction workers suffered from work related ill health (either new or long standing conditions). 54,000 workers every year experience a non-fatal injury, including trips and falls on the same level, injuries due to lifting and carrying, falls from heights and also by being struck by a moving object.

Many of those working in construction based or specialised skills, such as builders, electricians, plumbers, joiners and plasterers, will share many physical demands in their jobs, which can ultimately hinder their overall health.

There are certain measures that electricians and tradespeople alike can take to minimise the pressure and strain they are putting on their body, to allow it to withstand long hours, heavy loads and potential hazards in the workplace.

Back pain

62% of construction workers suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, a total 42,000 work related cases. These health conditions have been aggravated over time, from working long hours, in cramped conditions and with hazards surrounding them constantly.

Tradespeople spend a lot of time on their feet, which in turn can put pressure on your spine as it compresses. The longer your hours, the more likely you are to be on your feet for longer periods of time. It is also not uncommon for electricians and plumbers to have to squeeze into small spaces, such as a loft and under flooring.

How to prevent it: By taking up gentle stretches, such as yoga or pilates, you can build up your strength and also your mobility, allowing you to stay mobile and nimble throughout your working life. Yoga can help improve your overall posture, which may have deteriorated from working in tight spaces, relieve any pain you may have and allow you to prevent any future injuries.

Heavy lifting

Everyday tradespeople will have to lift heavy objects around site, whether that is building materials, cable reels, or heavy tool boxes, they can all have an impact on your body over time. It is one of the leading causes to injuries in the workplace and you need to put the right precautions in place if you are regularly lifting heavy loads.

Be sure that you are lifting things correctly and that there is a Health and Safety Assessment in place for heavy lifting.

How to prevent it: Look at the way you currently lift heavy loads, could you use a trolley instead to move these objects around site? Could you consider a trolley tool bag, such as the CK Tools Rolling Tool Bag, that you can simply tug along to your next job? This would then relieve the pressure on your back and prevent any future potential injuries.

Constantly kneeling

Electricians are just one trade that is known to spend a lot of time crouching or kneeling for long periods of time. It’s important that you protect your knees on site. If you suffer from knee strain or injuries early on in your career, they will only get worse over time.

How to prevent it: Invest in kneeling pads or a support now, don’t wait until you have a knee injury to take action.

Working at heights

For electricians, lighting can make up a large part of your workload and with that comes reaching above your head for long periods of time. For roofers and scaffolders, you will be constantly working on the outside of buildings and at risky heights, on rooves. For builders, especially that of new developments, your role will rely on you building a sturdy structure for someone to make a home.

It’s important that you have carried out a risk assessment for every job you take on that will involve you working at a height. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is enforced to help prevent any injury or death that is caused by a fall from a height.

How to prevent it: Carry out as much work as you can from the ground, make sure that all equipment used is suitable for purpose and strong enough. When working at height, using access equipment, be sure to never overload or overreach. You should also be sure to check equipment regularly for any faults, damages or signs of wear that could potentially lead to an injury.

Hands

Skilled trades are skilled for a reason. They require certain attributes and manual dexterity that you won’t find in other jobs. Many will require intricate work and hand eye coordination, for example the wiring and plumbing in your home, so it will come down to using your hands a lot from day to day. With this, can naturally come accidents.

From superficial wounds such as cuts, to more extreme injuries such as de-gloving and dismemberment, you need to take care of your hands on site. Gloves can help add another layer of protection on a daily basis, and also protect from worsening any skin conditions too, such as dry hands and eczema.

How to prevent it: Wear gloves at all times, especially when handling dangerous, heavy machinery. You should always remember to use the safety guards on tools in the workplace, to protect from any more serious injuries, such as dismemberment.

Eyes

Wherever you are working, on a construction site or in someone’s home, you need to be mindful of the potential hazards that could injure your eyes. After all, a tradesperson would be lost without their sight.

Flying particles or objects can be cause for concern as items, such as metal fragments, dust and splinters are all commonly encountered on site.

How to prevent it: The only way you can protect your eyes, is by using safety goggles with side protection. You can also get safety shields to sit over your goggles too, for added protection.

Hearing

If you’re exposed to loud noises, higher than 85dB for long periods of time, you will be prone to permanent hearing damage. On a construction site, you are never far from loud machinery or noises that often exceed 85dB, for example a power drill can average around 125dB and an impact wrench can average 110dB. In domestic premises, you are more likely to encounter the use of an electric drill, but even this can average 95dB, still putting you at risk of hearing damage.

Early warning signs of hearing damage can include ringing in your ears, speech sounding mumbled or distorted and it being hard to hear someone over background noise.

How to prevent it: Wear hearing protection, such as ear defenders, at all times. Even removing your ear defenders for a short amount of time can still risk damage. Be sure to get ear defenders which cover you to get you below the recommended decibels.

Breathing

Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999, however, it is still commonly encountered inside homes to this day. Tradespeople are at significantly high risk of asbestos poisoning, among other breathing related hazards, such as airborne debris, mould, rat droppings, dust and fumes. They are all contributing factors that can lead to tradespeople having breathing issues over time, with increased exposure.

How to prevent it: If you are being exposed to any airborne particles in your work, then you need to carefully consider using a face mask, and in some scenarios a full face respirator, to minimize the risk of any lung damage that could put you at risk.

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