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.
In some parts of the world (such as regions within Canada), cleaning with compressed air is not allowed by law. In the UK, 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.
In the USA, compressed air use is governed by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standard 1910.242.b, which states:
“Compressed air shall not be used for cleaning purposes except where reduced to less than 30 PSI and then only with effective chip guarding and personal protective equipment".
Blowguns can be equipped with a pre-set tamper-proof pressure regulator set at reduced pressure. Even so, their use should be considered carefully. This is because the problem with blowguns in the workplace stems not from their use but their misuse. There have been several publicly reported cases of colorectal injury due to pranks - it takes only one or two seconds to deliver enough pressurised air to cause serious internal damage.
Evolving workplace safety regulations and increased awareness of the risks and costs associated with compressed air have created a rapidly expanding market for a new generation of low-pressure systems. These systems are designed to limit exposure to pressurised air streams and airborne particulates and operate at noise levels well within regulatory guidelines. The JetBlack Safety cleaning station produces a low pressure, high-velocity blower-driven airstream - only 2.52 PSI (200 mBar), well below OSHA requirements for North America. This means the units can be safely aimed at virtually any part of the body (except eyes and ears) or can even be used directly on the skin. It is still recommended to exercise caution when using any machinery. JetBlack Safety also offers a full-body cleaning booth that can extract and collect dust quickly and efficiently when dealing with hazardous airborne dust.
JetBlack Safety Cleaning Booths are self-contained, de-dusting solutions that easily remove, extract and collect dust and debris from the clothes and body.see the range
JetBlack Safety Cleaning Stations are available in Wall-Mounted and Portable versions, providing a cost-effective alternative to compressed air.see the range
"Compressed air is dangerous – in fact it can kill. When we initially suggested a safer, dedicated dust blow-off booth for cleaning clothing people here thought we were mad! However, a few months after the booth was installed everyone now uses it on a regular basis and it is accepted throughout the entire company."Craig Bunn, Health and Safety Manager for the RNLI