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  Hazards of Compressed Air
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HR Regulatory Update
KPA Safety Corner

Too Much Pressure: Addressing the Hazards of Compressed Air

Compressed air is a commonly used industrial energy source in many dealership shops. Most shops provide it to work at a pressure that normally ranges from 90-120 psi. This powerful pressure level may be used to operate tools and equipment, but may create health risks when used to clean machinery, work areas, clothing, or other objects. For example, compressed air used at 100 psi can cause injuries by both the air stream as well as by the debris that is made airborne. These hazards may cause serious and devastating consequences, both for the individual using it and others in the area.

Many workers are injured every year while using compressed air. Even at lower levels, pressurized air blown into the eyes may cause permanent damage and blindness, while air blown into the mouth may cause a multitude of respiratory problems. Permanent hearing damage is also a risk when workers are exposed to the sound of the air emitted in the workplace. Pressurized air forced into the skin can cause abrasions and worse, it may cause a bloodstream embolism.

In response to these hazards, OSHA regulations specifically limit the pressure of compressed air that can be used for cleaning purposes to 30 psi, and then only with effective chip guarding and personal protective equipment (especially eye protection). Some states like California, for example, limit the pressure of air that can be used to blow dirt and dust off clothing to 10 psi.

Because most shop air is provided at 90-120 psi, compressed air nozzles are used to limit pressure to 30 psi. Pressure reducing air guns, known as “safety” air guns are readily available from a number of suppliers. These devices are built to limit exit pressure to 30 psi or less. Even better, these safety air guns are fairly inexpensive, typically in the $6 - $20 range.

As you check your shop for compliance, here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • Have you effectively implemented compressed air safety training for your employees?
  • Are your employees wearing the appropriate PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) when using compressed air for cleaning?
  • Is high-pressure compressed air being used to dry off cars, wheels, floor mats, etc?
  • Are shop personnel using high pressure air to blow sanding dust off vehicles and/or themselves?

When you consider the many important safety issues in your shop, be sure to address the proper and safe use of compressed air. Combined with the correct equipment (i.e., safety air guns, PPE, hearing protection, dust masks), some elementary employee training, and on-going management surveillance, the accidents caused by compressed air can be successfully prevented.

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