Air compressors are exceptionally versatile, supremely useful, and functionally essential to industries from automotive to pharmaceuticals. But they are only as valuable as they are safe. Safe operating and maintenance procedures ensure worker safety. They will also protect equipment, reduce downtime, increase productivity, and lower long-term operating and capital costs.
Compressed air can cause serious injury
Air compressors are powerful tools. When used incorrectly, they have the potential to cause serious damage to both workers and equipment. Overheated components can cause contact burns, while damaged or broken air hoses can result in serious bodily injury. Pressurised air can rupture the skin or even internal organs if directed at the body. Burst pressure tanks are liable to result in serious damage.
No amount of time and resources directed at injury prevention and equipment maintenance can ever exceed the costs incurred by serious safety incidents. Prudence demands the implementation of safe operating procedures for all compressed air applications.
Training is essential
First and foremost, it is important to thoroughly read and understand the owner’s manual for your compressed air system before using it. Workers who will be using the equipment should be provided with on-site training. Follow-up sessions should be scheduled as needed to make sure everyone is up to date on safety procedures. Workers should always wear appropriate protective equipment, including safety glasses or face shields along with adequate ear protection.
Keep equipment in a clearly visible area
Air compressors should be kept in a clearly visible area. Air tanks need to be positioned out in the open for easy inspection. Instructions for equipment use should be clearly displayed on the air system itself. The air intake should have access to a fresh air source. If you are operating indoors, you can increase air circulation with fans or other devices.
Ensure electrical safety
Electrical wires should be clean, unobstructed, and inspected for damage before the machine is turned on. Ensure that your machine is properly grounded. Improperly grounded machines can cause damage to electrical circuits, resulting in electrocution or fire.
Never point equipment at the face or body
When using an air hose with a blowgun, ensure that the nozzle is pointed in a safe direction, and that the trigger is not engaged. Air nozzles or air tools should never be pointed at the face or body. Hair and clothing should always be properly secured and kept away from tools.
Make sure that a shutoff valve is always within reach of operators. If anything goes wrong during operation, immediately cut off the air supply using the shutoff valve and address the issue before restarting the equipment.
Intake air usually contains pollutants and carbon monoxide and should never be inhaled without the proper filtration and monitoring equipment. Pressure gauges should be monitored regularly to ensure that the maximum working pressure of the air receiver is never exceeded.
Check air hoses regularly
Air hoses require attention, as damaged or broken hoses constitute significant safety hazards. Hose whipping, which occurs when a pressurized air hose breaks or pulls free from a fitting, can result in significant injury or damage. Whip-inhibiting devices should be placed along the coupling of a hose to avert this particular risk. Use standard or high-flow hose fittings instead of third-party ones, and regularly check to make certain they are well-secured. In addition to being a major safety hazard, loose or small-bore fittings can hinder the performance of your air tools or the machine.
All hoses and fittings should have a maximum pressure rating at or above that of the air compressor itself. Using hoses with inadequate pressure ratings could cause them to break during operation. Hoses should always be visibly labelled with the max pressure rating to ensure compliance.
Hoses should be kept clean of grease, oil, dirt, and debris. This will lengthen the life of the entire system. Hoses should be kept organised, out of the way of walkways, and should never be bent or kinked, during or after operation.
Service equipment regularly
Safe air compressor operating procedures should be followed during maintenance as well. Regular servicing and maintenance from your local authorised dealer is the best way to ensure your equipment is in proper working order. Your distributor can also ensure that the equipment is in compliance with Health and Safety regulations. Only trained personnel should change, replace, or adjust pressure-regulating equipment. These devices should be installed so that they cannot be removed or rendered inactive during operation.
When performing an inspection, shut off the source of air, bleed the air pressure, and disengage the air hose. Turn the machine off and allow oil or fuel to cool before changing it. Tools should always be isolated from the compressed air system before removal and should be fully depressurised first.
Replace rusted tanks
Air tanks rust over time from the inside-out due to high humidity and the presence of condensate. They tend to rust out near the bottom where the condensate collects. Rust eats away at the metal leaving it thinner and less capable of handling pressure. A rusted tank is very dangerous as it increases the likelihood that the integrity of the vessel cannot withstand the pressure and may burst causing major damage to personnel and/or the facility.
A free copy of the HSE’s Compressed Air Safety publication can be downloaded from their website.