Pumping Up Air Compressor Safety
Squeezing a volume of air into a smaller space dramatically increases its pressure. That’s the remarkably simple concept behind today’s air compressors, which pressurize to power everything from paint guns to impact wrenches and much more. This powerful process is usually very safe, as long as the right procedures are being used.
The most important procedure is making sure that the operator has been properly trained and is familiar with the particular model. It’s also important to read the operating manual and follow the instructions. We’ll explore some of the general rules for compressor safety.
Preparing the compressor
Confirm that the compressor is in good working order and properly lubricated. If you have to add oil, avoid overfilling or spilling oil on the compressor itself.
Check the air filter to verify that it’s clean, so air entering the compressor is fresh. If the filter is dirty, replace it. Check that moving parts have been guarded so that workers can’t come into contact with them.
Some compressed air tools generate static electricity, so you’ll want to be sure that the compressor is properly grounded before using it where flammable or explosive vapors are present. Compressors that burn gasoline or diesel fuel should not be used indoors, and the exhaust from compressors must be directed away from air intakes and windows.
Electric compressors should be plugged into a grounded power outlet. If you have to use an extension cord, keep its length within what the manual recommends, because a too-long cord can cause a voltage drop that may damage the compressor.
Typically, with gasoline or diesel engine-driver compressors, you have to open the start valve before starting the engine. Once it’s running, close the start valve, along with the tank drain valve. Never use tools to tighten the drain valve. If you need to add fuel, let the engine cool for several minutes to reduce the chance of fire.
Verify pressure and ratings
Air compressors, the tools they power, and everything connecting the two make up a system. It’s important to verify that every element of that system can safely handle your needs. Everything that will be attached to the compressor must be rated for at least the compressor’s maximum pressure. Make sure that you don’t use more pressure than required for the tool and the task.
The air supply shutoff valves should be located close to where the work will be taking place, so that the airflow can be stopped immediately if necessary. Air receiver tanks should have the correct safety valves (set below the tank’s maximum pressure) and pressure gauges.
The pipes and hoses that carry the air should be in good condition, free from oil, grease, and dirt. If possible, hoses should be suspended from above the work area to reduce the possibility of the hoses becoming kinked or someone tripping over them.
Before you remove a tool that doesn’t have a quick disconnect fitting, shut off the air supply at the control value and bleed the remaining pressure from the tool. If you’re finished with the compressor, shut the motor off (and unplug it if it’s electrically powered). After closing the regulator valve, release any remaining compressed air from the tank. To avoid damage from condensation, open the drain valve, and leave it open until using the compressor again.
Compressor common sense
Most compressor-related injuries or damage results from improper use, or from the failure to wear the personal protective equipment for the task. Horseplay with compressors, such as pointing the air stream or an impact tool at a co-worker, is especially dangerous. Never use compressed air to clean yourself off.
Finally, make sure that your compressors and every element of your systems that use compressed air receive regular inspections by qualified personnel, and are kept clean and well-maintained. While those steps may not eliminate the possibility of accidents, they will minimize incidents caused by mechanical problems.