Learn everything about compressed air, its applications, and the correct way to use it so work-related injuries can be prevented.
Published 31 Mar 2023
Compressed air safety, simply put, is the condition of being protected from the dangers of working with compressed air. Considered the ‘fourth utility’, compressed air is used at some point in a company’s operating cycle in all industries.
Unfortunately, a lot of people do not immediately recognize the various compressed air safety hazards. This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and similar regulatory bodies set numerous and very specific guidelines when working with it.
Compressed air is defined as air condensed in volume and then kept in a constricted space under pressure.
To understand the mechanics of compressing air, imagine a cylinder with a piston pump. If the pump is pulled back, the compression is low because the trapped air molecules can move freely within the pressure vessel. But if the piston is pushed in, the pressure is increased because the molecules are tightly packed in the chamber. The air, when released, has so much force that it can be used in various applications.
More and more companies, from small businesses to large conglomerates, are taking advantage of compressed air technologies because of its numerous benefits:
Compressed air is so ubiquitous, as this can be used for various purposes—from inflating birthday balloons to powering jet engines. Listed below are specific industries that use it:
Construction – Essential pneumatic tools in this field include jackhammers, diggers, and grinders.
Mining – Aside from the pneumatic drills and hammers, compressed air is used for blasting, materials handling, and most importantly, underground ventilation.
Agriculture – Irrigation systems, wind energy storage, pesticide sprayers, and wastewater treatment all make use of compressed air.
Food and Beverage – Pump systems, bottling, and packaging are all pneumatic machines.
Health Care and Other Service Industries – Besides powering surgical tools, respirators and air filtration systems make use of compressed air.
Recreation – Hotel elevators, ski lifts, and amusement park rides have air-powered braking systems.
Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.
While utilizing pneumatic tools is easier, more efficient, and arguably safer than using the three other utilities, dangers may arise when compressed air safety rules are not followed.
OSHA reports that getting hit by the attachments of pneumatic tools (e.g., nails or staples from a nail gun) is very common. But pressurized air in itself is lethal when it accidentally hits or enters the body.
Most pneumatic tools generate dangerous noise levels (120-130 dB), which can damage the ears when used constantly. The Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) based on OSHA’s compressed air safety regulations is only 90 dB.
Devices powered by compressed air vibrate excessively. Regular use of these tools may lead to awkward postures and chronic pains in the long run.
Workplace injuries are completely preventable when everyone is fully trained for the job and has a complete understanding of the rules set by the company and regulatory offices. Here are seven compressed air safety rules to comply with:
Never point it at anyone, including yourself – Aside from the fact that a flying nail from a nail gun can kill, it only takes just 12 PSI to dislodge an eye and 40 PSI to ruin the eardrums.
Never use this for cleaning anything, including yourself – Pressurized air can get blown into any body orifice and rupture internal organs.
Always inspect lines and accessories – Prevent leakages and subsequent ruptures by assessing lines and hoses before use. These should not be crimped or coupled.
Always check pressure ratings and follow limits – Aside from checking the gauge constantly, make sure the hoses are aptly sized and can handle the pressure going through them.
Always keep the shutoff valve within reach – The air source should be nearby in case anything wrong happens. It’s also best to disconnect the gadget from the air supply when it is not used.
Always wear appropriate gear – Wear Personal Protective Equipment or PPEs such as thick clothing, face shields, face masks or respirators, and ear plugs before working with compressed air.
Always conduct equipment training – With so many pneumatic tools available, it is important that workers completely know the ins and outs of the ones provided for the task at hand.
Compression does not change the composition of the air. So just like regular air, compressed air has nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of other gasses.
Yes. When the molecules of the air are packed tightly together in a chamber, the rapid movement of these molecules generates heat. The air released may not be excessively hot to touch, but the air inside the pressure vessel definitely is.
The limit really depends on the application. Some can go as low as 14 PSI, while others can reach 6000 PSI. This is why there are numerous compressed air safety regulations set by OSHA. It is crucial to determine the pressure required for a specific job, stick to the established limits, and create safety measures around it.
Ideally, no. But if this cannot be avoided in your workplace, OSHA sets a pressure limit of 30 pounds per square inch through a nozzle of an air gun. Going over this threshold is very dangerous and life-threatening.
Using compressed air in various applications offers a whole lot of benefits for your company. But ensuring the safety of your people while doing this should also be your top priority. Let SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) help you out in achieving all these.
Eunice Arcilla Caburao
Eunice is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. A registered nurse, theater stage manager, Ultimate Frisbee athlete, and mother, Eunice has written a multitude of topics for over a decade now.
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