How to Work Safely With Compressed Air
Compressed air is a common and extremely versatile tool that appears in garages and workplaces across the nation — but it can also be dangerous if used incorrectly. What can you do to make working with compressed air safer and what sort of behaviors should you avoid?
Safety Is the Number-One Priority
Safety should always be your first priority when working with compressed air, no matter the setting. Air compressors are common in construction sites, factory settings and, of course, automotive garages. It may seem like a simple tool and you might be tempted to blast a coworker with a burst of air, or use the compressed air to blow dirt or dust away from your skin, but this is dangerous behavior.
Compressed air is under such pressure that even brief contact with protected skin can cause abrasions, cuts and other injuries. If the skin is broken, an air compressor can force air under the skin, causing organ damage or even potentially causing an embolism — an air bubble in the blood that can cause a cardiac event if it reaches the heart. In rare cases, impacts from compressed air have been known to cause traumatic organ damage.
To keep your employees safe, it is essential to follow all proper protocols for the correct use of air compressors.
Common Uses for Air Compressors
Air compressors are used for a variety of applications that include but are not limited to:
- Cleaning: Compressed air is a useful tool for blasting dirt and dust out of, and off of, equipment and products during assembly. It can also be used to clean assembly surfaces and any other area that accumulates dust.
- Painting: Compressed air-powered airbrushes are commonly used in the auto body industry to paint vehicles. Airbrushes can be used in other applications as well.
- Powering Pneumatic Tools: Air-powered tools are used everywhere from construction sites to race track pit stops. They provide more power than hand-powered tools and more constant power than battery-powered models.
- Transportation: Small pneumatic tubes can be used to move small individual parts — you’ve seen them at your bank’s drive through — while larger systems can be used to transport everything from vehicles to packaged and palletized products.
- Production Services: Pneumatic systems can be used to power conveyer belts, clamps and other production items. The specifics will depend on the individual application.
- Food and Beverage Processing: Compressed air is used during the filling and capping processes for food and drinks and can also be used to assist in fermentation.
- Injection Molding: Compressed air is used during injection molding processes for plastics.
This is just a small sample of the applications you may see for compressed air. There are dozens of ways that this tool can be applied to any number of situations.
Safety Tips for Air Compressor Use
What can you do to ensure your workplace air compressor is used safely?
- Keep your air compressor in a visible area so it can be constantly supervised and maintained.
- Get everyone involved. Set up an open-door policy so your employees feel comfortable making suggestions or asking questions about the equipment.
- Make sure the workers are fully versed in equipment safety and techniques to reduce the chance of injury or accidents on the job.
- Keep the equipment clean and well-serviced by a trained professional.
- Make sure employees are always wearing the correct protective gear, such as safety glasses, ear protection and other personal protective equipment.
- Keep all equipment directions clearly displayed on the equipment.
Keeping your equipment in good working order and ensuring that all employees are trained and reminded of safety protocols can help create a safe work environment and prevent accidents on the job.
You Get What You Pay For
While it might be tempting to purchase a remanufactured or secondhand air compressor system, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Higher-quality or name-brand compressors might be more expensive, but having a more capable air compressor can help eliminate some of the risks presented by using old or secondhand equipment.
Buying a name-brand compressor can help reduce that risk even further by giving you access to approved service providers who are trained to maintain your specific piece of equipment. While using a different service provider for your equipment maintenance is one option, you aren’t guaranteed to be paired with a technician who knows all the ins and outs of your compressor’s idiosyncrasies.
An air compressor is a vital tool in many different industries. Choose a good one for your application and you won’t be disappointed. Safety begins with a high-quality air compressor and continues with your employees, so make sure everyone is trained in the use of the equipment and your compressor will continue to serve you well for years to come.