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September 17, 2007
The Trouble with Compressed Air--Workers Might Not Think It's Hazardous

Emphasize the hazards. With all the important safety issues on your training agenda, compressed air safety might not seem like a pressing problem. But it is a very real hazard, and it certainly deserves attention--especially since most of your workers probably don't think compressed air is dangerous.

Basically, there are three hazards associated with compressed air: air pressure, flying particles, and noise.

  • Air under a lot of pressure can penetrate the skin, causing hemorrhaging and pain. If compressed air gets into the body through cuts in the skin, an air bubble (embolism) could form in the bloodstream, and that could kill a worker if a bubble gets to the heart or lungs. Furthermore, compressed air entering the body through the mouth or nose can cause injury to internal tissues and organs. Compressed air that hits an eye can blow the eyeball from its socket, and compressed air blown into an ear can rupture the eardrum.
  • Air pressure of 40 pounds can drive chips and other particles into the eyes and face with the force of shrapnel. Flying particles can also cause cuts and bruises to other parts of the body.
  • Compressed air is noisy, too. Noise levels can sometimes reach or exceed 120 decibels.

Make sure your workers wear essential personal protective equipment (PPE). It's a safe bet that some of your employees probably don't think about the need for PPE when they use compressed air.

Why It Matters...
  • One of the greatest hazards of compressed air is that employees may not appreciate the dangers or take the necessary precautions when working with it.
  • Compressed air accidents can result in serious, disabling injuries and even death, on occasion.
  • Injuries can be easily prevented by explaining the hazards and teaching employees safe work practices.

And yet it's essential for preventing the kinds of injuries just identified. Recommended PPE includes:

  • Safety glasses with side shields or goggles
  • Face shield
  • Hearing protection
  • Dust mask or respirator (may be required, depending on materials in use and the work environment)

Focus on safe work rules. Your compressed air safety training should include, at a minimum, these key points:

  • Make sure the line you're working with is an air hose, not a gas or water line. (Sometimes hose lines cross and a worker could be fooled.)
  • Inspect the hose to make sure it's in good condition and properly connected.
  • Keep air hoses off the floor where they can be tripping hazards or become damaged.
  • Prevent sharp objects from rubbing against air hoses.
  • Always coil the hose--without kinks--when it's not in use and hang it over a broad support, not on a hook or nail.
  • When you have a choice of pressure, use the lowest pressure that will do the job.
  • Never point an air hose or air gun at anyone--including yourself.
  • Choose a safer, better way to clean dust from your clothes, such as a brush or vacuum.
  • Don't fool around when using an air hose. It's a tool that should be used with caution, not a toy for engaging in horseplay.
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