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Looking after your physical health as a tradesperson

Reading time: 6 minutes

When you work in a trade your body is your most important tool. Here’s what you need to look out for and how to keep your body in decent working order...

Keeping safe at work

You can prevent most problems with a good approach to health and safety at work. That’s easier if you’re working for a big company as they’re more likely to have procedures in place and provide the right equipment.

In certain trades, like tree surgery or roofing you may have more stringent safety measures in place to keep you safe - falling from heights is one of the most common causes of injury.

Depending on your trade, it’s likely you could be prone to some sort of repetitive strain injury. If all you do is dig day in day out, not only will you be exhausted but there’s a chance you can get an injury purely from the repeated action.

Working with power tools, heavy machinery and materials also feature high on the causes of injury. Make sure you know how to use all of the equipment you’ll be handling, and that it’s in good working order.

A lot of safety comes down to common sense and being aware of what the potential dangers are

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What PPE should I use?

Using the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is key to keeping safe. Depending on your trade and the jobs you’ll be carrying out, there are a range of common pieces of equipment you might expect to use, including:

  • Steel toe-cap boots - Very useful for protecting your toes from dropped paving slabs and other heavy items.
  • Anti-vibration gloves - You’re using tools like jackhammers, these can help prevent conditions like vibration white finger.
  • Masks - Useful if you’re working with solvents or other chemicals, or with materials that give off dust.
  • Protective eyewear - Goggles and safety glasses will protect your vision from sparks and debris coming loose.
  • Protective ear wear - Building sites, even domestic ones, can be loud places, so it’s always good to use ear defenders if you’re operating loud tools.

Some of these might seem expensive when you’re buying up front, but they save days off and keep you working for longer, so they’re an investment you’ll want to make. You can also count them as expenses for your tax purposes.

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Health and safety philosophies to live by

We’ve all heard “bend with your knees, not your back”, but it’s basic safety that’ll keep you healthy:
  • Pace yourself - it's a long, physical day, you don't want to burn out before lunch
  • Don’t try and lift more than you can handle
  • Wear the correct PPE for the job
  • Aways try and get someone to foot a ladder you’re using
  • Use formal health and safety site assessments (you can find templates online)
  • Use a barrow where you can to transport heavy materials
  • Don't overload your barrow or any other holder
  • Try and mix up your jobs during the day when you can, to avoid long periods spent doing to same repeated action
  • Make sure access ways are clear before you use them
  • Consistently assess working areas for hazards
  • If there's any danger of things falling on your head, wear a hard hat
  • Make sure you look out for others' health and safety too - other tradespeople, your client, their family and the general public
  • Put up barriers around hazardous areas, such as any trenches you’ve dug
  • Unplug power tools at the end of the day if leaving them on site
  • ...and bend your knees, not your back.
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What do I need to watch out for?

If you’re working in a trade, then it’s likely your body will take more punishment than someone sat behind a desk. There are a few complaints that pop up again and again including:

  • Back pain - Probably the most common complaint. It can be something as simple as overworking your muscles or holding your body in strange positions when you work, to more complicated issues like arthritis, disc problems and bones slipping out of position. But it’s one of the easiest to keep in check with good working practices.
  • Tinnitus - Ringing or buzzing in your ears, usually caused by repeated exposure to loud noise, for example, welding without protective ear wear. This can cause long term problems and once your hearing’s gone you can’t get it back.
  • Vibration white finger - If you’re using vibrating tools or machinery like sanders, jackhammers or chainsaws then you can end up with numbness and tingling in your arms and hands, painful joints and weak muscles. Some people call it hand-arm vibration syndrome or dead finger. Easy to prevent with the right equipment.
  • Eczema and skin problems - The cold and wind can cause dry skin. Add chemicals and materials like plaster and cement and it can end up broken and sore. But most of the time it’s easy to treat with moisturising cream.
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What else can I do?

What you put into your body and how you treat it affects how you feel and how well you do your job.

  • Food - It’s easy to grab quick, high-calorie food, like the classic builder’s breakfast, but it’s not necessarily the best choice for keeping you going. Try and stick to healthier options, and go for slow-release carbohydrates that will give you energy over a longer time, rather than quick hits of sugar that will perk you up, but also make you crash. Teas, coffees and energy drinks are good for a quick caffeine fix but try and avoid getting too reliant on them - hydration with good old water is crucial.
  • Exercise - If you’re doing a physical job, then you might think you do enough exercise as it is. But doing dedicated exercise, whether it’s running, swimming, or five-a-side, is a great stress reliever, and you’ll pick up fewer injuries if you’re fitter. Like a pro-athlete, you could also consider massages and other treatments to help handle any aches and pains you pick up on the job.
  • Sleep - We all make mistakes when we’re tired. Our body needs deep sleep to fully rest and repair so try and get into a healthy routine. It’s not always easy to switch off with your phone always on, but you’ll want to be rested for early mornings on site.
Our bodies give us signals when something isn’t right. Don’t ignore it. Go and have a chat with the GP and get it sorted before it affects your job.

Health and wellbeing