Compressed Air: The Least Recognized Hazardous Material

Workers in many industries use compressed air as a power source for their tools and equipment. Unfortunately, workers sometimes don’t realize the potential dangers inherent in compressed air use, so they fail to take necessary safety precautions. Improper compressed air usage can result in disabling injuries and possible death.

In training employees about compressed air use, first discuss the three major hazards:

·   Skin penetration that causes hemorrhaging and pain-Compressed air can enter the body through cuts in the skin. If this happens, an embolism (air bubble) may form in the bloodstream. If the embolism migrates through the circulatory system to the heart or lungs, it can cause a blockage in a blood vessel in the organ, which could result in death. If compressed air enters the body through the mouth or nose, it can injure internal tissues and organs. If an employee is hit in the eye with compressed air, it can push the eyeball out of the socket. Blowing compressed air into an ear can rupture the eardrum.

·   Flying debris-Air pressure of 40 pounds can cause particles to hit the eyes and face with the same intensity as shrapnel. Flying particles can also cause cuts to other parts of the body.

·   High noise level-Noise levels caused by compressed air usage can reach or exceed 120 decibels, a level at which hearing damage can occur.

Any training about the correct use of compressed air should include instruction on the need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Wearing PPE is essential if an employee is to be protected from the dangers outlined above. You should require all employees working with compressed air to wear safety glasses with side shields or goggles, a face shield, hearing protection, and a dust mask or respirator.

Compressed air safety training also should cover the following rules:

·   Check to see that the line being worked with is an air hose, and not a gas or water line.

·   Inspect the hose to see that it is free of holes, and properly connected.

·   Keep air hoses off the floor so they won’t be damaged by foot traffic. Hoses laying on the floor also pose a tripping hazard.

·   Don’t allow sharp objects to rub against an air hose while it is in use.

·   Coil the hose when it’s not in use and hang over a wide support. Never hang it on a hook or nail. Check the coiled hose and smooth out any kinks, which can cause cracking in the hose.

·   Use the lowest air pressure possible to complete the job.

·   Never point an air hose at anyone.

·   Never use an air hose to clean dust from clothes. Use a brush or vacuum instead.

Incorporating correct compressed air usage guidelines into your company’s safety protocols helps your employees to avoid unnecessary and dangerous working conditions, and can reduce the number of accidents that occur.