Working With Compressed Air – What You Need to Know

Compressed air is a very useful utility in the workplace and it can be employed in a number of ways within an industrial facility. It can be used to operate large machines as well as small handheld tools and it's cheap, easy to maintain and can be used for a long period of time without overheating.

However, when using compressed air it is important to follow the appropriate health and safety regulations. might have seen compressed air being used in your workplace to clean workplaces, debris or clothes – as this cleaning method is convenient and easy to use. However, cleaning bench tops, machinery, objects and clothing with compressed air can be dangerous, because the air jet and the particles that it makes airborne pose a hazard.

Why is Compressed Air Dangerous?

How could compressed air be dangerous? After all, it is only air? First of all, compressed air comes out in a very forceful way and depending on the pressure, it can dislodge particles from surfaces. These particles can be a danger to you because they can enter your eyes or irritate your skin. Depending on the speed and the size of these particles, they can do a lot of damage.

Also, compressed air machines are very loud – so they bring with them the risk of hearing loss. Working around these machines on a daily basis will result in cumulative hearing loss that builds up over time and is irreversible. When compressed air is used to force dirt and dust particles into the air, it makes these particles airborne which creates a breathing hazard.

Exposure to airborne particles can cause irritation in the lungs, eyes and sinuses. Another one of the serious dangers with compressed air is when the forceful pressurised air enters the blood stream through a break in the skin or through a bodily opening. This can cause an embolism, which is an air bubble in the blood stream.

This is a very dangerous medical condition and it can result in paralysis, coma or even death – depending on the severity of the embolism. Many people don’t realise just how powerful compressed air can be and like to play with it in the workplace, blowing air on their co-workers for fun.

However, a stream of compressed air to the head can cause the eardrums to be ruptured or the eyes to be seriously damaged. Blowing compressed air into the mouth can damage the oesophagus and the lungs. Surprising someone with a blast of air could also cause them to react by slipping, falling or hurting themselves on nearby machinery. Horsing around in the workplace is dangerous and should always be avoided.

Use Other Cleaning Techniques

Compressed air should not be used for cleaning, unless it is reduced to 30 psi. Then, it should only be used with the appropriate personal protective equipment and effective chip guarding. But what kind of cleaning methods should be used instead?

There are other much safer ways of cleaning in the workplace other than using compressed air. For example, you could use wet sweeping techniques, vacuum cleaners equipped with filters or sweeping compounds to prevent the dust from being recirculated into the air.

Safety Tips When Using Compressed Air

All employees within the workplace who are using compressed air should have undergone the appropriate health and safety training, so that they are aware of the risks and they understand how to avoid these risks. Here are some other important safety guidelines that should be observed when using compressed air.
  • All compressed air equipment should be kept in good working condition. Inspect it regularly and perform any maintenance as soon as possible.
  • All employees working with compressed air machines should have undergone the appropriate health and safety training. Make sure that only competent employees are allowed to operate the machines.
  • When you are inspecting your machines, make sure that you check the supply lines of the system and take a close look at the hoses for any cracks and damage.
  • Keep hoses away from grease and oil, as this can damage the hose materials.
  • The shut-off valve for the air supply should be located as close as possible to the point of operation.
  • Keep hoses organised and out of the way, so that they do not create a tripping hazard by being strewn across the floor.
  • The ends of the hoses should be secured, so that they will not whip around if an accidental break in the hose occurs.
  • Compressed air pipes need to be inspected regularly and checked for wear and rust. If the pipes are located within tight spaces or along machinery, they should be inspected for damage caused by vibration or friction.
  • Check the fittings of the compressed air machine, to ensure that they are tight and securely clamped.
  • Any of the moving parts in the machine, such as pulleys, belts or compressor flywheels, should be guarded so that they do not pose a hazard.
  • Never crimp or uncouple the pressurised hose, always bleed off the pressure before releasing any connections.
  • Make sure that all equipment is grounded, to prevent the risk of static electricity.
  • All employees who are using compressed air should wear proper eye protection as well as hearing protection.
  • Before performing maintenance on electric compressors, they should always be disconnected from the power supply.

One of the most important things to remember is to never point a pneumatic impact tool at a person, whether it is a riveting gun or the compressed air hose itself. Never use compressed air to clean a person’s clothing or skin. Compressed air can be a very useful tool in the workplace, but it can also be dangerous when it is used incorrectly.

Make sure that all employees have the relevant health and safety training and that safely procedures are followed for working with compressed air. With the right techniques, you can enjoy the usefulness of compressed air without the risks to your health.

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