Compressed air is not often recognized as a hazard by its users, which leads to widespread misuse, serious injury or even death. This article is explain the dangers of using compressed air.

Table of Contents

Compressed Air Hazards

Compressed air is a stream of high pressure air travelling at a high speed that can cause injuries to the operator or people around them. Compressed air itself is a serious hazard, but it has also been known to enter the blood stream through a break in skin or through a body opening.

An embolism is the medical term used to describe a blocked blood vessel, which in this case would be an air bubble in the blood stream. These can lead to comas, paralysis and even death depending on the size, duration and location of it. They are possible due to the high pressures of compressed air.

Though, it may seem quite improbable, it needs to be taken seriously as even a small amount of air in the blood can be fatal. Not taking it seriously or not being aware of the hazards of compressed air are the reasons for most serious workplace accidents.

The hazards are:

  • As little as 12 pounds of compressed air pressure can easily blow an eye out of its socket. If an air pocket reaches the heart, it causes symptoms similar to a heart attack. Upon reaching the brain, pockets of air may then lead to a stroke.
  • Compressed air can rupture the lungs, stomach or intestines if accidentally blown into the mouth
  • Compressed air can enter the navel, even through a layer of clothing, and inflate and rupture the intestines
  • Compressed air can enter the bloodstream, and death is possible if it makes its way to blood vessels in the brain
  • Direct contact with compressed air can lead to serious medical conditions and even death
  • Even safety nozzles which regulate compressed air pressure below 30 psi should not be used to clean the human body
  • Flying particles and debris – can result in eye injuries, cuts/scrapes or other significant injuries to almost any body part;
  • High noise – can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss

As you can see, it’s really worth being aware of the dangers and ensuring you carry out safe work practices!

Cleaning with Compressed Air

Many people wonder whether it is a good idea to use compressed air to remove dust from clothing, components or even work surfaces. The answer is no, it is not a good idea!

The thing is, many people still do it as old habits and due to the easy availability of compressed air in many workplaces even though they know its hazardous. Most compressed air applications are not connected to electricity so its easy to ignore what dangers may be present.

Compressed air components must be treated with the same respect as electrical machines and tools to avoid dangerous accidents.

In some parts of the World, cleaning with compressed air is not allowed by law. Companies are beginning to realise the dangers and issue written cautionary statements that if not abided by, will result in warnings or even dismissal.

In the United States workplace safety is regulated by OSHA regulations. OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They state that “Compressed air use is governed by 1910.242.b, which says that air pressure in direct contact with the skin cannot exceed 210 kPa (30 psi).The use of protective air cones is generally accepted to protect the operator, but barriers, baffles or screens may be necessary to protect employees from being exposed to flying chips or particles.”

Safe Work Practices

The following safe work practices can be employed to reduce the likelihood of injury:

  1. Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when using pneumatic tools and equipment, such as hearing protection and safety glasses with side shields or goggles. Additional PPE such as a face shield, gloves or steel-toed shoes, may also be required, depending on the hazards you will encounter.
  2. Ensure all connections and couplings are secure, and hold the open end of the hose firmly to avoid uncontrolled “whipping” of the hose.
  3. When not in use, coil the hose (without kinks) and hang it over a broad support. Do not leave the hose lying on the ground where it may become damaged or cause a trip hazard.
  4. When using an air nozzle for cleaning equipment, removing dust from hard to reach areas on equipment, clearing lines, etc., ensure that the air pressure exiting the nozzle is 30 psi or less and use effective chip guarding, such as barriers, baffles or screens.
    • Use the lowest pressure necessary to perform a job task;
    • Adjust the air regulator to reduce the air pressure; or
    • Use a safety tip on the air nozzle to maintain air pressure below 30 psi should the tip of the air nozzle become blocked or dead-headed.
  5. Never point the nozzle of an air hose at anyone and never use compressed air to clean debris from a person’s skin or clothing.
  6. Ensure all air receivers are equipped with a pressure gauge, safety release valve and a drain valve located at the bottom part of the receiver.
  7. Never use compressed air to transfer flammable liquids.
  8. Only use tanks and valves that have been constructed and installed in accordance with the A.S.M.E. Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, Section VIII Edition 1968.
  9. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for care and maintenance of compressed air equipment, including portable units. Items that require inspection or servicing include: drain lines, air-line particulate filters, safety devices, air filters, condenser coils, etc.
  10. Before conducting any repairs to the pressure system of air compressors, receivers or compressed air equipment, ensure all hazardous energy sources are locked and tagged out, and all pressure has been released.

If you have any questions regarding the dangers of compressed air then please leave a comment below with a photo if applicable so that someone can help you!