Everybody has heard (and seen) the builder’s bum, but what about the plumber’s knee? Something that is rarely spoken about yet is impacting the health of more than 28,000 people in the UK. At the end of 2018, a survey revealed that nearly 75% of working plumbers experience problems with their knees, yet only 41% have discussed the issue with their general practitioner.
The study conducted by The IPG — a leading membership group for plumbing, heating and bathroom specialists — also discovered that 57% of plumbers surveyed felt that they would need to undergo knee-replacement surgery in the future due to the hardships of the profession. 59% also felt that they would be forced to retire early because of the injuries they pick up in their work.
On average, a UK plumber works 47 hours a week, with around half of that time spent on their knees. This can have a detrimental effect, especially if no protective workwear is worn. However, even with kneepads, 77% specified that they still experience issues. Those who have been working for more than 30 years were the ones who had the worst knee issues, with 68% stating they have had physio, keyhole surgery or other operations on their knees. However, it’s not just plumbing veterans who are experiencing problems.
Case Study #1
In 2018/19, Andy Hope was a 31-year-old plumber running his own business, A.S Hope. He had been working as a plumber for just 12 years, yet he had to pay a visit to his local hospital due to nerve damage in one of his knees. He was advised to take over a week off work, which cost the company around £1,500 - £2,000.
Andy said, “It was very painful, I didn’t realize that the line of work I did could have such an effect on my physical health. “However, I still had clients that needed my services and I still had bills that needed to be paid — even just a week off work unpaid could lead to a tight month. I can’t imagine what would happen if my injury had been more serious and I had been written off work for longer, which is something I imagine happens to many of my fellow plumbers across the country.”
Recently, Andy decided to change his career direction and now teaches plumbing at his local College.
Case Study #2
Dan Francis, a 34-year-old bathroom and kitchen installation technician works for a local employer in West Sussex. His job incorporates plumbing and tiling, among many other things, and he had also been working for just 12 years when he developed bursitis in one of his knees. This condition is caused by bony joints having regular contact with hard surfaces. He had this for eight months before one Friday morning his knee was completely inflamed, causing him to be unable to walk without severe pain. That weekend he slept excessively having come down with a fever.
When Dan visited a doctor’s surgery, the GP confirmed it was one of the worst cases of bursitis he had ever seen. Dan was prescribed high doses of antibiotics and was advised that if there were any signs of further health deterioration that he should go to hospital, as there was a huge risk of sepsis.
Dan said, “The pain was excruciating. I couldn’t put any weight on my affected leg and no number of painkillers were helping. One day the bursitis burst and left a massive gaping cavity in my knee.”
He was advised to take three weeks off work; however, conscious of taking too much time off he went back after two even though the wound wasn’t healed fully. “In hindsight it may have been better if I took the full three weeks off as it did affect the work I was doing,” he said. “However, I could only receive statutory sick pay, meaning I was already losing out on my wages. I felt like I had no choice but to go back early.” It took another six weeks until the wound eventually healed.
Nike Lovell, Head of Marketing at IPG, said, “This is a serious issue that still needs to be addressed. We would like to urge all plumbers and installers to ensure they are using specialist protection whilst on the job, from apprentice level all the way up to those who have been working in the trade for decades.
“It is also essential that if any plumber or installer starts to have any trouble with their knees that they consult a GP straight away in order to discover any possible problems early on to avoid more serious issues.”
About The IPG
The IPG is a leading membership group specializing in providing its membership of independent plumbing, heating and bathroom specialists with access to improved purchasing terms from manufacturers and distributors, alongside marketing and business services.
They believe that the independent should have a voice and a better chance to compete in the market given all the challenges facing them today. They do this through improving the position of their members by using the strength, knowledge, skills and resources available within the group.
The IPG was founded in 2013 and is based in , West Sussex. The group has already surpassed more than 200 trading locations nationwide and works with many successful industry suppliers.