“Just as Vaccination Protects Individuals and the Community. Plumbing Protects the Whole Community and Individually Plumbers Protect the Health of the Nation.”
Albert Einstein towards the end of his life in 1954 wrote “If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber.”
Einstein, like many others, recognised that plumbing is public health, now, and in the future.
A survey of 11000 doctors by the British Medical Journal in 2007 voted hands down that the world’s greatest medical milestone since 1840 was sanitation. Despite all the staggering medical breakthroughs and scientific advances, the seemingly mundane advance of reliable sewage and a reliably clean water supply was judged the greatest medical advance.
The recognition of reliable sewage and water supply is a testament to the strength of plumbing laws, standards and licensing in not only Australia but also in Europe and North America. This is because doctors recognised the best measure of medical advance is not its complexity but what it does for the average person with respect to length and quality of our lives. The average life expectancy has increased 35 years since 1840 and roughly 30 of those years are attributable to the advances in sanitation and living conditions.
For most of us in Australia plumbing is something we take for granted. We have never known what it is like not to have on-demand clean running water inside our homes or a fully functional sewer system to take away the used water. Close to 90% of us live in an urban environment, and for that, we can thank plumbing, that allows us to do so safely, without fear of contracting water-borne diseases. Yet even plumbers fail to understand the impact that they have on a modern urban society.
Clean potable water is the basis for life and without it the risk to public health and the population as a whole increases. The cost to the community of plumbing failures are substantial and always have been. Plumbing is and always has been a major part of the public health system. This was first learnt by the Romans who were the first civilised society over 2000 years ago to realise the requirements to have an integrated plumbing system to pipe in clean water and dispose of used water.
In Asia alone, some 2 billion people, which is over 60% of the population of Asia, live without an adequate access to sanitation such as toilets. In many places, open sewers are the norm. This would not be tolerated in Australia and we are protected from it by our plumbing laws.
Recent natural disasters here in Australia and internationally are important reminders of the role plumbing plays in modern life. Homes in Brisbane during the recent floods were made uninhabitable with the loss of plumbing. This is further reinforced by the earthquakes in Christchurch, the tsunami in Japan, cyclones in North Queensland, and the floods in Victoria where homes were not suitable to be lived in again until full plumbing services were reinstalled. In all of these natural disasters, the restoration of plumbing was a major component of the recovery process.
As with everything in life, change is the constant and this is certainly true of plumbing. As we solve one problem another one arises. Diseases related to water have always required vigilance in preventing their spread. This is as true today as it has always been. As always this is where plumbing will once again prove to be a major part of the solution.
The mosquito has always been a major source of transmission of serious diseases such as malaria, ross river fever, dengue fever to name a few. New arboviruses such as Chikungunya are increasingly a threat to Australia. These emerging infectious diseases are all spread by mosquito and are dependant on water. This intimate dependency on water increase risk without high plumbing standards of becoming endemic in Australia.
With the increasing threat to the community from the mosquito-spread of waterborne strong plumbing, practices are essential.
Plumbers have a continuing obligation to the community to use their knowledge and experience to demonstrate the impact that poor plumbing could have in the future.