Your everyday health can sometimes take a backseat when you’re working hard out in the field, but that’s exactly where good safety practices start
The sweltering heat of summer is upon us. For plumbers working out in the field, hot days can be both exhausting and dangerous, so safety comes to mind in particular for me this time of year.
Safety gets a lot of well-deserved attention in our industry because of the high risks we face every day. It is important to remember, though, that job safety often starts well before our plumbers ever show up for work.
Alert minds, fast reflexes, and heat tolerance are all important factors in workplace safety. Reporting to work healthy in mind and body is the first step to reducing injuries and incidents. While you can’t control what your employees do off the clock, you can still encourage healthy habits.
Plumbing is a physical job, and it would seem like all that labor would keep us fit and trim. Certainly we hear gloom and doom statistics about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, and plumbers are anything but sedentary. But having a physically demanding job alone is not enough to keep you healthy. “Skinny fat” is currently a popular phrase in the fitness industry. What is skinny fat? It is a term used for people who don’t physically appear to be overweight, but may have poor health, alarming blood work results, and/or the kind of muscle conditioning expected from the visibly obese.
To summarize, a plumbing career is not a guarantee of healthy living and poor personal health can lead to job hazards. Luckily, staying reasonably healthy isn’t as complicated as the fitness industry tries to make us believe. It’s as simple as making our health a priority. Small choices add up and can make a big difference over time.
Addressing personal health habits with your plumbers is a great topic to cover at safety meetings, even if it isn’t an obvious one. Here are my best small-step tips for healthy living — both on the clock and off:
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is critical to our health. In fact, there is no better gift you can give yourself after a hard day of work than a good night of rest. The damage done to your body during the day heals while you are sleeping. The longer you sleep, the more you replenish.
Sleep deprivation has also been documented to affect judgment. As any safety officer will tell you, human behavior is the No. 1 risk on a job site. Good judgment is a little bit easier on a full night’s sleep. Prioritize your sleep.
Drink Enough Water and Take Electrolytes
Hydration is a favorite topic of safety officers during the summer months. But drinking water on the job, when you are perspiring throughout the day, really isn’t enough. You need to be hydrating off the job too. Start your day with a big glass of water and keep the drinking water train going all the way to bedtime.
Much like with a good sleep, a well-hydrated body is more alert and less prone to heat-related illness than a thirsty one.
When it is both hot and humid outside, water is sometimes not enough. Constant sweat leads to electrolyte depletion. Electrolytes can include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphate and chloride. Your body needs these nutrients to function properly.
Everyone has different electrolyte needs. If you are prone to cramping pain, a lack of electrolytes are likely your problem. If you aren’t convinced of how important electrolytes are, consider that they are necessary for digestion, the nervous system, cardiac function, and muscular systems.
For serious electrolyte issues, skip the gas station or grocery store. Instead, visit a running or endurance sports store where you’ll find electrolyte tablets that work much better and keep you feeling better than any sports drink. In fact, the absolute best way to replenish an electrolyte imbalance is with plant-based foods like bananas, raisins and coconuts. Sugary drinks, which can dehydrate you further, are not the only option.
Eat Real Food
Healthy eating takes a bit of effort, but proper nutritional support keeps your body functioning optimally. Don’t worry, you don’t have to go full kale salad and quinoa bowls to improve your dietary habits.
Many grocery and convenience stores — and even some fast food restaurants — offer healthier options these days. If you don’t know where to start, you’re not alone. Nutrition is really complicated and access to healthy foods, time to prepare it, and refrigeration are all a concern for a busy plumber. No wonder we so often just end up at the drive-thru.
But “eating healthy” is not one-size-fits-all nor is it all-or-nothing. You can tweak your current diet, improve your nutrition, and feel better with small changes here and there. The best change you can make, if you are used to eating out every day, is packing a lunch. Nearly every meal you would bring from home is healthier than a restaurant option.
Avoid Tobacco and Alcohol
We’ve all got our vices, so I’ll be careful throwing stones here. But hey, we know this stuff is bad for us. Tobacco use in the plumbing industry is rampant.
Studies have shown that plumbers have some of the highest smoking rates among all U.S. occupations. Unfortunately, we also have one of the highest risks of asbestos exposure, making the consequences of the habit much scarier. The statistics don’t look good.
Tobacco is hard to enjoy in moderation. Most people are either addicted or not, and stress is a very real obstacle to quitting smoking. Check to see if your insurance company offers a free smoking cessation program and encourage employees to utilize it.
Similarly, a beer after work is a nice way to unwind. But it can increase your risk on the job as well. Obviously, no one should perform plumbing duties under the influence of alcohol. But what about the lingering effects?
Everything from anxiety to changes in coordination can be blamed on alcohol consumption. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it poisons the body. It also makes that hydration an uphill climb. If you’ve ever had a hangover while working all day in the sun, you know why this is a bad idea.
Overall, tobacco and alcohol make a plumbers life harder and the job riskier. The more you can curtail use, the better off you will be.
Day By Day
If your plumbers finish their day tired, cranky, or find themselves unfocused on the job, overall health habits might be to blame. Working this way is a risk to both the employee and their co-workers. It is a liability and increases chances of injury.
Encourage your plumbers to be at the top of their game and to improve their quality of life both on the job and off. Healthy living helps us all.
About the author: Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.