Working with compressed air.
I recently visited a client to help with health and safety review and risk assessment, when I noticed a few people quite happily blowing dust off there overalls using a compressed air line.When I questioned them about this dangerous practice they were totally unaware of the dangers associated with practise.
There is nothing wrong in using compressed air when it is used correctly and safely.
So what are the hazards of using compressed air?
First, compressed air is extremely forceful. Depending on its pressure, compressed air can dislodge particles. These particles are a danger since they can enter your eyes or abrade skin. The possible damage would depend on the size, weight, shape, composition, and speed of the particles. There have also been reports of hearing damage caused by the pressure of compressed air and by its sound.
Second, compressed air itself is also a serious hazard. On rare occasions, some of the compressed air can enter the blood stream through a break in the skin or through a body opening. An air bubble in the blood stream is known medically as an embolism, a dangerous medical condition in which a blood vessel is blocked, in this case, by an air bubble. An embolism of an artery can cause coma, paralysis or death depending upon its size, duration and location. While air embolisms are usually associated with incorrect diving procedures, they are possible with compressed air due to high pressures. While this seems improbable, the consequences of even a small quantity of air or other gas in the blood can quickly be fatal.
In addition, using air to clean forces the dirt and dust particles into the air, making these contaminants airborne and creating a potential respiratory hazard.
Unfortunately, horseplay has been a cause of some serious workplace accidents caused by individuals not aware of the hazards of compressed air, or proper work procedures.
What should I use instead of compressed air for cleaning purposes?
Use wet sweeping techniques, sweeping compounds, or vacuum cleaners equipped with special filters or other devices to prevent dust from being recirculated into the air.
More information can be found in HSG 39, dangers from working with compressed air at www.hse.gov.uk.
As I mentioned earlier, compressed air is perfectly safe if it is used in the correct manner.
It is vital that anyone in your employment is made aware of the dangers of compressed air use, and that risk assessments include what controls are in place to reduce the risks from this process.
Refresher training can never be to often.
Don’t forget that the compressors, air receivers and other equipment should all be regularly inspected and records retained.