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Avoiding Compressed Air Hazards

Compressors can present an explosion hazard and other dangers.

We use compressed air for a variety of things inside a facility. Most people are familiar with OSHA 1910.242, which requires that air hose nozzles be reduced to 30 psi when dead-ended.

However, there are other items that need to be maintained and checked to ensure employee safety. Besides cleaning, compressed air can be used for power tools, warning signals, and equipment control such as activating gauges.

Safety Issues

Employees who will be using compressed air need to protect their eyes, ears, and skin from injury. Safety glasses with side shields or goggles will protect the eyes. A face shield and hearing protection should be considered, where there may be chips of material that could become embedded in skin. Making sure that your arms and hands are covered will prevent that from happening. 

Always make sure that the hoses are in good condition. Look for wear or signs of misuse. The couplings must fit securely. There should be no forcing of coupling fittings. Plan for the unexpected.

If the hose or coupling were to fail, the hose could whip around and injure nearby workers. Can you secure the hose to minimize the length that would put others at risk?

Never allow employees to use compressed air to clean dust off of clothing. Horseplay with compressed air should be addressed as a dangerous and unsafe act. Be sure that the nozzle you are using will reduce air pressure to 30 psi when dead-ended.

The compressors that generate the plant air are pressure vessels and have a faceplate that includes performance parameters that need to be clearly legible. Do not paint over the faceplate. Plant air lines need to clearly be labeled “AIR” throughout the facility. Plant air is not the same as instrument air. Make sure that these two systems are kept separate. 


Compressed Air Permits

Some grain handling facilities use compressed air for cleaning, especially in inaccessible places. If you decide to use compressed air, you have to address the risks of putting grain dust in suspension. Using a Compressed Air Cleaning Permit is a systematic way to identify hazards and minimize the risks, in order to clean areas that are inaccessible.

The first step in this process is to see if there is any other way to get the cleaning job done. If there is no other way, then you should identify the risks and address each one to minimize the possibility of an explosion. The permit should list the known areas of risks. All electrical boxes should be closed securely and equipment shut down completely.

Lighting and other essential equipment that has to remain energized must be rated properly and must be in good condition. Look for a broken conduit, and if you find one, get it repaired. Make sure that fire protection systems are working and that fire extinguishers are charged and ready to use.

Look for and address sources of ignition other than electrical such as hot bearings, hot surfaces, steam lines, etc. All employees who will be working in the area must be protected properly against airborne dust.

Use a permit to ensure that the risks are not overlooked. Have a second person review the permit. A second set of eyes may catch something that the first person missed or assumed was known to all. 

Source: Lynn Larsen is president of Safety Solutions Inc., a safety and equipment consulting firm, Knoxville, TN; 701-261-9587.


This Safety Tip of the Week is sponsored by: Electro-Sensors, Inc. 



This Safety Alert was published by Grain Journal, Decatur, IL ... 800-728-7511 ... website:

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Safety Tip of the Week is edited by Managing Editor Tucker Scharfenberg and published each Monday by Grain Journal, Decatur, IL

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