Compressed Air Safety
Is it a good idea to use compressed air to blow dirt off clothing or work surfaces?
No. Although many people know using compressed air to clean debris or clothes can be hazardous, it is still used because of old habits and the easy availability of compressed air in many workplaces. However, cleaning objects, machinery, benchtops, clothing and other things with compressed air is dangerous. Injuries can be caused by the air jet and by particles made airborne (re-enter the air).
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 your 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 bloodstream through a break in the skin or through a body opening. An air bubble in the bloodstream 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 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.
Where compressed air is allowed for cleaning, how can I do it safely?
A “quiet” nozzle (i.e. one with low noise emission) should be selected.
The nozzle pressure must remain below 10 psi (69 or 70 kPa) and personal protection equipment (PPE) must be worn to protect the worker’s body, especially the eyes, against particles and dust under pressure.
In addition, air guns should also be used with some local exhaust ventilation or facilities to control the generation of airborne particulates. When compressed air cleaning is unavoidable, hazards can be reduced by making adjustments to the air gun such as:
- chip guards or curtains that can deflect flying dust or debris,
- extension tubes that provide the worker a safer working distance, or
- air guns equipped with injection exhausts and particle collection bags.
For more information, please view this document on Air Gun Safety.
What are the ergonomic concerns for selecting powered hand tools?
- Select tools that can be used without bending the wrist. Hand tools should allow the operator to grasp, hold, and use the tool with the wrist held straight.
- Select the tool with the workplace layout and job design in mind. Sometimes a tool is correct for one operation and incorrect for another.
- Use the right tool for the job. Ensure it is the right size and has sufficient power to do the job safely. When there is a choice, select a tool of low weight.
- Select low-vibrating tools.
- Choose tools with vibration-absorbing handles, like those covered with cork, rubber, plastic or plastic bonded to steel, to reduce hand-arm vibration.
- Choose hand tools that have the center of gravity within or close to the handle.
- Select tools with rounded and smooth handles that you can grip easily.
- If they are available, choose hand tools with double handles to permit easier holding and better manipulation of the tool.
- Select tools with a trigger strip, rather than a trigger button. This strip will allow you to exert more force over a greater area of the hand that, in turn, will reduce muscle fatigue.
- Ensure that the trigger works easily to reduce the effort needed to operate it.
How can you reduce the ergonomic hazards of working with powered hand tools?
- Ensure that your tool is well maintained and in good repair.
- Frequently-used tools that weigh more than 0.5 kg (1 pound) should be counter-balanced.
- Hold the tool close to the body. Do not overreach.
- Keep good balance and proper footing at all times. This will help operators to control the tool better, especially in response to unexpected situations.
- Rest your hands by putting the tool down when you are not using it.
- Reduce power to the lowest setting that can complete the job safely. This action reduces tool vibration at the source.
- Consider wearing anti-vibration gloves. However, you should not wear thick or heavy gloves if operating the tool requires precise movements.
Pneumatic Tool Safety
What are pneumatic tools?
Pneumatic tools are powered by compressed air. Common types of these air-powered hand tools that are used in industry include buffers, nailing and stapling guns, grinders, drills, jackhammers, chipping hammers, riveting guns, sanders, and wrenches.
How do you use pneumatic tools safely?
- Review the manufacturer’s instruction before using a tool.
- Wear safety glasses or goggles, or a face shield and, where necessary, safety shoes or boots and hearing protection.
- Post warning signs where pneumatic tools are used. Set up screens or shields in areas where nearby workers may be exposed to flying fragments, chips, dust, and excessive noise.
- Ensure that the compressed air supplied to the tool is clean and dry. Dust, moisture, and corrosive fumes can damage a tool. An in-line regulator filter and lubricator increases tool life.
- Keep tools clean and lubricated, and maintain them according to the manufacturers’ instructions.
- Use only the attachments that the manufacturer recommends for the tools you are using.
- Be careful to prevent hands, feet, or body from injury in case the machine slips or the tool breaks.
- Reduce physical fatigue by supporting heavy tools with a counter-balance wherever possible.
How should you handle air hoses?
- Use the proper hose and fittings of the correct diameter.
- Use hoses specifically designed to resist abrasion, cutting, crushing and failure from continuous flexing.
- Choose air-supply hoses that have a minimum working pressure rating of 1035 kPa (150 psi) or 150% of the maximum pressure produced in the system, whichever is higher.
- Check hoses regularly for cuts, bulges, and abrasions. Tag and replace, if defective.
- Blow out the airline before connecting a tool. Hold hose firmly and blow away from yourself and others.
- Make sure that hose connections fit properly and are equipped with a mechanical means of securing the connection (e.g., chain, wire, or positive locking device).
- Install quick disconnects of a pressure-release type rather than a disengagement type. Attach the male end of the connector to the tool, NOT the hose.
- Do not operate the tool at a pressure above the manufacturer’s rating.
- Turn off the air pressure to the hose when not in use or when changing power tools.
- Do not carry a pneumatic tool by its hose.
- Avoid creating trip hazards caused by hoses laid across walkways or curled underfoot.
- Do not use compressed air to blow debris or to clean dirt from clothes.
What should you avoid with compressed air?
- Cleaning with compressed air is dangerous.
- Do not use compressed air for cleaning unless no alternate method of cleaning is available. The nozzle pressure MUST remain below 207 kPa (30 psi). Personal protective equipment and effective chip guarding techniques must be used.
- Two acceptable methods of meeting the “below 207 kPa (30 psi)” requirement are illustrated below.
Document last updated on January 8, 2012.
The original source of this information is from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety www.ccchs.ca. All rights reserved.