You Can’t Put a Price on the Health and Safety of Employees

Plumbing code safety changes may create requirements that increase the cost of doing business, but being lax about safety may mean no business at all.
You Can’t Put a Price on the Health and Safety of Employees
Jason Shank

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When it comes to running a profitable plumbing company, health and safety issues can be a silent killer of profits. An injured employee not only means less billable hours for the company, but also potentially higher insurance and/or workers’ compensation bills. Also, at the most extreme end, these injuries could result in loss of future work. A customer isn’t going to want your company on a job site if they think your safety standards are poor, or your workers’ compensation rate may be too high to even bid on certain jobs.

Health and safety at the workplace has been addressed in the Model Plumbing Codes of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and the International Code Council (ICC) the past couple of code cycles. A major area that has changed and has — or will — cause your company some extra time is the testing requirements for drainage and potable water systems. It has been common practice to test the drainage and water systems with compressed air in many areas of the country. The procedure for testing and inspecting these systems with air was even listed in the Model Plumbing Codes. But that has now changed.

Prior to 2012, when you were required by code to test a drain or water system you had two options: test with compressed air or with water. Over the years there have been accidents and injuries when testing with air, which of course results in lawsuits from the injured parties. It is important to note that when 5 psi for drainage or 50 psi for water is put into these systems, it may seem harmless but could be deadly due to the volume of air at these pressures. These types of tests are really dangerous when done on plastic piping such as PVC or CPVC because these types of materials tend to break and create shards that could impale anyone around them.

Manufacturers and OSHA have said for years that the practice of compressed air testing is not recommended and should not be used. So the code changes have been made for the protection of the plumbers doing the testing and we as an industry are looking to change our testing habits. Plumbing inspectors no longer have the option to accept most of the compressed air tests used in the past and we are all learning a different and safer way to complete this necessary test while still maintaining a profit.

Depending on what part of the country you are in and the authority with jurisdiction overseeing the required tests, we are left with primarily a water test for drainage systems and standing water pressure tests for potable water systems (check your local jurisdiction’s current code language). These tests have been in the code for years, but because of job site conditions, such as not having water on site or the potential mess caused, they have not historically been used. Now, they may well be coming to your area if they’re not already there. By using these water-based tests we have made the plumber in the field safer, but we have also increased the time/cost for testing these systems and the potential for damage to the buildings by water. I hope customers understand these cost increases for testing are justified in order to protect the health and safety of our employees, so that profit margins don’t have to be reduced any more.

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About the author
Jason Shank is the training director for Cleveland Plumbing Industry (Plumbers Local 55) and Cleveland Plumbing Contractors Association JATC in Cleveland. Learn more at


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