Referred to as the 'fourth utility', compressed air plays a vital role in many industrial processes. Despite this, it is not always afforded the same attention as gas and electricity when it comes to safety. Misuse of compressed air by workers is one of the areas where safety often fails, with serious or even fatal consequences. Despite clear and repeated warnings from the HSE to "never use compressed air to remove dust from clothing", this practice is still commonplace on many factory floors. It is convenient, quick and easy, and people don't always realise the potential for danger.
Compressed air is not the same as ordinary air. It is air that has been condensed and contained at a pressure that is greater than the atmosphere. The force with which the air exits the gun makes it so dangerous - as damaging as a solid object. It is forceful enough to blow an eye out of its socket or rupture an eardrum.
People don't always realise that compressed air can cause severe injury or worse, even when there is no direct contact with the skin or body. Careless use of compressed air to blow away dirt or dust from clothing could allow the air to enter the body, damaging the internal organs. A layer of clothing offers little protection against compressed air.
"Very serious injuries, sometimes fatal, have occurred when the nozzle of the gun has been pointed towards the body, even at some distance from it. Many of the injuries occur when clothing is dusted down and because of this compressed air should never be used for cleaning clothing. Others are the result of horseplay."
Extract taken from Health and Safety Executive - HSG39
The use of blowguns to remove swarf, powder, dust, etc., from components and machinery is widespread throughout the industry. However, this practice carries similar risks to personnel dedusting with compressed air. In addition, cleaning plants and parts with compressed air creates blowback that is strong enough to drive the filings, shavings, chips, dust, and other debris into the eyes, ears, or skin.
IS IT AGAINST THE LAW TO USE COMPRESSED AIR FOR CLEANING?
In some parts of the world (such as regions within Canada), cleaning with compressed air is not allowed by law. In Australia, although there are no specific laws prohibiting the use of compressed air for cleaning, the HSE's Compressed Air Safety Book warns against this activity.
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