Wellbeing: Knee protection for plumbers

Working in the heating and plumbing industry is physically demanding, so it’s important that engineers do all they can to protect themselves. With the amount of time that installers spend on the floor, looking after their knees is vital.

According to Business in the Community, musculoskeletal problems such as back, shoulder and knee pain are the leading cause of lost working days in the UK, costing the country’s economy a staggering 31 million days every year.

Serious business Knees are one of the most complex and important joints in the body. Kneeling down puts considerable pressure on these joints and the longer spent in this position the greater the damage. This puts heating and plumbing installers at particular risk.

“One of the most common injuries stemming from long periods of kneeling is prepatellar bursitis, where a small fluid-filled sac (the bursa) at the front of the kneecap becomes inflamed as a result of being under too much pressure for too long,” explains Matthew Handley, head of marketing at ToughBuilt. “The condition makes it difficult and painful to bend the knee.”

According to a survey conducted by The IPG, almost 60% of plumbers felt they would need to undergo knee replacement surgery in the future. Two thirds of those surveyed felt knee injuries related to work would force them to retire early, whilst many stated they had already had to undergo physio or surgery on their knees as a result of their occupation.

Release the pressure Kneepads are the obvious solution to reducing work-related knee injuries, but there are other steps that installers and employers can take to further protect these vulnerable joints. In addition to rotating staff or tasks to reduce the amount of time one person spends in a certain position, it’s also important to take regular breaks from kneeling and walk about.

“Research conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that wearing kneepads can decrease the risk of occupational and other knee injuries by more than half,” explains Handley. “Of course, as well as preventing injuries, kneepads can also improve comfort and productivity.”

Look for kneepads that feature integrated thigh support, which keeps the knee perfectly centred and prevents it twisting out of the kneepad. Pads with a lower platform, which raises the shin off of the ground, will alleviate pressure on the ankles, whilst thigh and calf straps can help to keep pads in place.

To ensure you choose knee pads which are fit for purpose, ToughBuilt advises checking performance in three key areas – force distribution, penetration resistance and certification such as CE, UKCA or BS EN 14404.

“Employers have a legal obligation to protect their staff,” says Handley. “The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers, by law, to carry out risk assessments of activities undertaken by their employees. Where a need for knee protection is identified, it is important this is supplied to avoid financial penalties.”

ToughBuilt’s KneelSmart, KneelSafe campaign aims to raise awareness of the risks posed by work-related injuries and of the ways in which they can be prevented.

“Ultimately, we want to see kneepads treated with the same importance as other forms of PPE such as hard hats, safety glasses or safety boots. After all, the consequences of not using adequate knee protection can be every bit as devastating.”

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