Compressed air is a critical tool for many industries. Because the air is condensed into a smaller space, its pressure is higher than that of the atmosphere. This makes air compressor safety and maintenance critical. The following guidelines help to insure the safe operation of air compressors.
Air compressors generate heat, which makes proper ventilation essential. The amount of heat generated depends upon the type of compressor used. Air compressors generate more heat than water compressors. The good news is that the heat generated by most air compressors can be recaptured and recycled for other purposes. Even with proper ventilation, shutoff valves should be located near the compressor, and all employees should be apprised of their locations.
Hoses should not be stretched across large areas. This not only increases the risk for tripping or falling by employees, it also increases the possibility for hose malfunction.
Hoses must also be kept clean. Oil and dirt in particular, accelerate deterioration. Employees should be trained in the proper usage of compressed air hoses. When misused, compressed air hoses can cause severe injury and even death. Compressed air hoses should never be pointed directly at an individual, as they often have small bits of debris lodged in them. Aiming a compressed air hose directly at an individual’s face can cause debris to be dislodged, causing issues when landing in the eyes, nose, mouth, or ears. Just the sheer pressure of compressed air, when applied close range, can cause an individual to lose balance, fall, or possibly trigger cardiac arrest for those with heart problems.
Proper Pressure Settings
According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the PSI of air compressors used for cleaning should be below 30 and with proper chip support. PSI is simply an acronym for pounds per square inch. This is a measurement of air pressure as it flows from the compressor. The chip setting minimizes the likelihood of debris emitted or sprayed from the hose. Even low settings below 10 can be potentially harmful if used incorrectly or if lacking the proper chip guard. Air compressors used for concrete and mill scale are exceptions and may exceed the 30 PSI maximum as long as proper safety precautions are taken.
Electric vs. Gas
Most air compressors are powered by electricity, though some are gas powered. The type of compressor and amount of voltage should be determined in direct relation to the job. For smaller home usage – portable, gas powered air compressor models are sufficient. Commercial grade air compressors typically have electrically powered two stage motors that utilize a two-step process to compress air. They also will normally have larger tanks that are able to compress more pounds of air. It’s essential that electrically powered compressors are grounded since static electricity can be generated by their usage. It’s also recommended that the oil in an air compressor motor be changed every 7,000-8,000 hours of usage. Lubricant free compressors are available, but most commercial grade models do utilize some type of lubricant.
Checking the Air Filter
Air filter maintenance is essential to a properly working air compressor. A clogged air filter can increase the chance of flying debris and may also challenge the motor to work harder. When checking the air filter for debris, make sure that the air compressor is powered off and cool. Remove the top filter from the base and carefully clean before reattaching and powering on.
Preventive maintenance not only extends the life of an air compressor, it can prevent unnecessary injuries. The regularity and type of maintenance required depends on several factors. Air compressors that are operated in high humidity areas usually need to have excess condensation drained on a weekly basis. The oil level and conditions of the belts should be inspected daily. Any strange noises or malfunctions should also be immediately inspected. Air filters should be inspected on a weekly basis. Leak checks should generally be conducted on a monthly basis as long as the compressor is working properly. Engines should be checked annually unless a problem is suspected.
Conduct regular valve checks as needed. Trouble producing the proper amount of air may be a sign that a valve is either leaking or has become clogged. Prior to conducting any inspections to an air compressor, the power should be turned off and the compressor should be disconnected from its power source. It should also be allowed to cool.
Employees should be trained in the proper maintenance of an air compressor. They should be taught how to set the correct PSI. They should also be made aware of the dangers of improper usage. Goggles are advisable, and employees should know how to locate the model’s manual, which should be kept in a convenient location. It’s also a good idea to include tips for cutting waste in an employee air compressor training program.
Air compressors are a great source of energy for high power jobs. With proper training and caution, they make keeping a worksite clean, efficient, and easy. The highly pressurized air emitted from them, however, can be dangerous without the right precautions. Proper maintenance is essential to safe operation!