The No-pressure Approach to Air Compressor Safety
By Safety Management Group
One of today’s most versatile tools operates based on a very simple principle: squeezing a volume of air into a smaller space dramatically increases its pressure. Air compressors produce highly pressurized air that can be used to operate everything from paint guns to impact wrenches and much more. Pressurized air is remarkably powerful, and when used correctly, is very safe.
The key to ensuring safe operation of air compressors is making sure that the operator has been properly trained and is familiar with the particular model that is being used. It’s important to read the operating manual and follow the proper steps for operation. In this article, we’ll review some of the best practices for safe compressor operation.
Before using the compressor, verify that it is in good working order and has been properly lubricated. If necessary, check the oil level. If you need to add oil, be careful to avoid overfilling, or spilling oil on the compressor itself.
Verify that the air filter is clean, and that the air entering the compressor is fresh. If the filter appears to be dirty, replace it. Make sure that any moving parts have been guarded so that workers can’t come into contact with them inadvertently.
Because some compressed air tools can generate static electricity, be sure that the compressor is properly grounded before using it where any kind of flammable or explosive vapors may be present. You should not use compressors that burn gasoline or diesel fuel indoors, and you always want to ensure that the exhaust from compressors is directed away from air intakes and windows.
When using an electric compressor, plug the unit into a grounded power outlet. If you have to use an extension cord, verify that your cord is not longer than what the manual recommends, because a too-long cord can cause a voltage drop that may damage the compressor.
With most gasoline or diesel engine-driver compressors, you’ll 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.
Check your pressure and ratings
An air compressor, the tools it powers, and the pipes, hoses, and fittings that connect the two make up a system. It’s important to verify that every element of the system has the capability to safely handle your needs. Check everything that will be attached to the compressor to ensure that it is rated at least for the compressor’s maximum pressure. It’s even better if the ratings exceed the compressor’s pressure. Make sure that you don’t use more pressure than required for the tool and the task.
The shutoff values for the air supply should be located close to where the work will be taking place, so that the airflow can be interrupted immediately if necessary. Any 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 someone tripping over them, or of the hoses becoming kinked during operation.
After operating the compressor
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. Finally, to avoid damage from condensation, open the drain valve, and leave it open until the compressor is used again.
Common sense with compressors
Most compressor-related injuries or damage result from improper use, or from the failure to wear the appropriate 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. Nor should you use compressed air to clean yourself off.
Most of all, 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