Cleaning With Compressed Air: When It’s Safe and Not
Most compressed air applications do not use electricity, so the tendency for people is to not consider it as dangerous to use. While there are safety regulations to follow when operating electrical machines and tools, there are also safety guidelines to keep in mind when using compressed air components to avoid dangerous accidents.
Compressed air is a concentrated stream of air at a high pressure and high speed. It can cause serious damage to the operator and to the people around him or her. Air pressure in direct contact with the skin cannot exceed 30 psi.
There are regions within Canada wherein cleaning with compressed air is not allowed. Other parts of the world are practicing this, too. More and more companies are made aware of the dangers of using compressed air to blow-off some elements and there are several company rules specifically tackling this. Horseplay has been a known cause of some serious workplace accidents because employees are not aware of the hazards of compressed air, as well as proper work procedures.
Most manufacturing operations use compressed air systems to clean dirt and debris from some parts of machines in the form of a flexible hose and an air gun. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard requires that the nozzle pressure of an air gun used for cleaning purposes should remain below 30 pounds per square inch (psi) for all static conditions. In the workplace, pressure to air guns can range from 55 to 160 psi as needed.
Proper Protective Equipment (PPE) is required for anyone operating a compressed air system for cleaning purposes. When there is a risk for exposure to particles, goggles or face shields are required to protect the eyes. Gloves are used to protect the hands, and a hearing protection for increased noise levels to protect the ears.
It is rendered unsafe to use compressed air when cleaning clothes or your body. Compressed air entering the bloodstream through a break in the skin or a body opening can create an air bubble (embolism) which can be fatal to any human. Compressed air that is accidentally blown into the mouth can cause rupture (collapse) to the lungs, stomach or intestines. Compressed air with as little as 12 psi can blow your eye of its socket, and if the air pocket reaches the heat, it might cause heart attack. An air gun should never be pointed directly to an individual or one’s skin.