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Blown away: how compressed air risks lives

Supplier: Australis Engineering
02 June, 2014

Compressed air is one of the most important energy forms used in industry today, its use is widespread and as with many things that are in plain sight, the risks of compressed air injuring people and damaging plant are often grossly underestimated.

Compressed air is not "just air". It's a focused stream of air driven at a high velocity, that can cause serious injury or death to its operator or persons in the immediate area, so knowing your responsibilities to mitigate these risks is essential.

Corporate duty of care

Since the Commonwealth Workplace Health and Safety Act# (WHS) commenced in January 2012, it's essential that businesses comply with their duty of care towards WHS.

Put simply, the Act requires businesses and their officers to take all reasonable, practical measures to minimise or eliminate WHS risks to workers and other people at a place of business including customers.

This includes actions such as installing safety devices or implementing safe work policies, procedures and training to mitigate risks. Penalties can be onerous to both the business and individual decision makers, not to mention increased insurance and workers compensation costs.

Compressed air dangers

With so many WHS issues to consider, compressed air might not seem a high priority, but it is a serious, life threatening hazard that deserves critical attention - especially as many people don't realise how dangerous compressed air is. Compressed air creates four main hazards, some of them deadly.

Air pressure. Air under high pressure can penetrate the skin, causing lacerations and embolisms, or damaging sensitive tissue such as the eyes or ear drums. Pressure as low as 12psi can rupture an eyeball.

Noise

Compressed air can reach or exceed 120 decibels, which is equivalent to a jet plane, causing WHS noise pollution issues.

Particles

Air at 40psi can drive particles into the eyes and face with the force of shrapnel, causing cuts and bruises to other parts of the body.

Whiplash

When a pressurised air line bursts, or a hose coupling inadvertently releases, a whiplash results in a thrashing hose becoming a dangerous projectile. If air tools are attached, or the line is a large diameter, the dangers increase dramatically.

There are documented cases of severe injuries and death caused by high velocity, thrashing air hoses striking people.

Whiplash – the forgotten issue

Given that severe injuries and death may result, it is surprising that whiplash risk is often overlooked in the workplace. Whiplash occurs when:

  • the pressure exceeds the hose rating, or
  • a hose is suddenly severed, or
  • a hose coupling inadvertently releases while the hose is still under pressure

A hose connected to the compressor or main air line is still under pressure and will violently whip until the air pressure reduces. A violently thrashing air hose becomes a projectile and is extremely dangerous and can strike people or equipment with considerable force, causing injury or death, or resulting in damage to plant and causing production downtime.

Whiplash deaths and injuries...

  • A NZ road worker died from massive head injuries after an air hose burst and struck his head. Death occurred despite him wearing a hard hat
  • A NSW miner died after a 250psi air hose became kinked and burst, striking the miner
  • A Queensland worker died after being struck in the head after an unsecured air hose blew off its fittings

To read more about how you can prevent hose whiplash from occurring at your worksite, download the free whitepaper from Australis Engineering