A form of stored energy, compressed air can be used with perfect safety; but if compressed air systems and tools are not properly maintained or misused they have the potential to cause severe injury.
If compressed air systems are not maintained there is potential for the stored pressure to be released with explosive and disastrous force. In use compressed air equipment can violently dislodge particles of dust, filings and other materials leading to eye injury or forcing them deep into the skin. Released close to the skin it can be forced directly into body tissues with very serious consequences. Compressed air played directly onto an open wound can cause swelling and intense pain and air forced into the blood stream could lead to coma, paralysis or even death. Compressed air jets directed at colleagues during horseplay are often the cause of quite serious unintentional injury. Compressed air should not normally be used to remove dust from components or in the workplace since it increases the level of dust that can be inhaled in the air and can itself create a health hazard.
In operation compressed air tools can create noise levels likely to cause hearing damage unless they are fitted with noise reducing equipment. The sudden release of compressed air from a piece of pneumatic plant can also be very loud and if a regular occurrence can lead to hearing loss.
Compressed air receivers and distribution lines are subject to a requirement for periodic statutory examination by a competent person. Please see ‘Pressure Systems’ for further details.
See also: Competent Person, Pressure Systems.