Increasingly there is a tendency by commercial building owners and managers to require their cleaning contractors to undertake work tasks that are legally plumbing. Cleaners undertaking plumbing tasks are quite simply breaking a number of laws as are their employers and supervisors.

The most common plumbing tasks that cleaners who are untrained, unskilled and unlicensed appear to be being required to undertake as part of their cleaning duties are:

  • unblocking of drains
  • unblocking of toilets
  • disconnecting and clearing of traps
  • servicing of urinals

The only plumbing related tasks a cleaner or any other person can legally undertake are:

  • cleaning or maintaining ground level grates to traps on sanitary drains
  • replacing caps to ground level inspection openings on sanitary drains
  • maintaining an above or below ground irrigation system for the disposal of effluent from an on-site sewerage facility
  • installing or maintaining an irrigation or lawn watering system downstream from an isolating valve, tap or back-flow prevention device on the supply pipe for the irrigation or lawn watering system
  • replacing a jumper valve or washer in a tap
  • changing a shower head
  • replacing, in a water closet (WC) cistern, a drop valve washer, float valve washer or suction cup rubber.

All other work must be undertaken by a licensed plumber and drainer – no ifs, no buts, no exceptions.

Cleaners who are required and frequently forced by their supervisors and employers to undertake plumbing tasks usually at the behest of building owners and managers are all breaking the following laws and regulations:

  • Building Services Authority Act 1991
  • Work Health and Safety Act 2011
  • Queensland Plumbing and Wastewater Code
  • Plumbing and Drainage Act 2002
  • Plumbing and Drainage Regulation 2003
  • Standard Plumbing and Drainage Regulation 2003

Plumbers and drainers unlike cleaners are trained to undertake tasks such as clearing of drains or working on toilets or urinals. All of these tasks require specialised training, diagnostic skills and an awareness of health and safety issues. Above all plumbers are licensed to undertake the work by the Queensland Government plumbing regulator, the Plumbing Industry Council who are legally required to protect public health and safety through Queensland’s plumbing and drainage licensing system.

Tasks such as unblocking of drains, unblocking of toilets, disconnecting and clearing of traps or servicing of urinals are specifically covered by schedule 2 of Standard Plumbing & Drainage Regulation 2003 as detailed below:

  • work necessary for maintaining, repairing or replacing a fitting or fixture
  • work necessary for maintaining or repairing an apparatus other than a back-flow prevention device or thermostatic mixing valve
  • work necessary for replacing apparatus other than a backflow prevention device, thermostatic mixing valve, tempering valve, water heater, cistern, pump or water meter
  • work necessary for maintaining, repairing or replacing fire hydrants or fire hose reels
  • unblocking a pipe that is sanitary plumbing or sanitary drainage
  • work necessary for maintaining or repairing a solar or heat pump hot water system in a building classified under BCA as a class 1, 2, 3 or 4 building

Work undertaken under schedule 2 does not require lodgement of a form 4 with the local government plumbing & drainage inspectors but all work must be undertaken by a licensed plumber or drainer.

A cleaner despite what they are told cannot undertake any of the above tasks. They and those that instruct them to do the work are breaking the law and all are liable for fines plus leave themselves exposed to common law claims under the due diligence provisions of the new WHS Act 2011.

It is very simple if there is general cleaning of a plumbing fixture then there is no issue but where a component part is replaced or disconnected from the plumbing or drainage system, fixture or fitting for maintenance or servicing it can only be legally undertaken by a licensed plumber.

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