On April 26, 1988, an air compressor hose exploded at a construction site on the Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, hurling debris into the street and starting a small fire. Shockwaves from the explosion knocked over pedestrians on the other side of the street, and a piece of flying debris struck one of them. Accidents such as this emphasize the need for care when working with pneumatic tools (tools that are powered by compressed air).
Tools are such a common part of our lives that it is easy to overlook the potential danger. Pneumatic tools in particular can be extremely hazardous and should be handled with care. Those using them should always follow the guidelines for the safe use of these tools. People who use these tools can be exposed to:
- Falling and flying objects.
- Abrasive and splashing materials.
- Flying chips and sparks.
- Harmful dust, fumes, mists, vapors, or gases.
Without the proper safety equipment and procedures, such hazards pose a serious threat to the safety of anyone using these tools. Employees of companies that use these tools should be trained in hazard recognition and the steps to take should anything happen. Basic safety measures save lives when followed, and can result in death when ignored.
Being aware of safety precautions is especially necessary for pneumatic tools. These include:
- Nailing and stapling guns.
- Jackhammers. Chipping hammers.
- Riveting guns.
Pneumatic tools can be extremely dangerous if not used properly because of how they are built. There are at least seven issues specific to such tools.
- Because they are powered by compressed air, irregularities in the flow or over-pressurization can cause them to break. Check the manufacturer rating and make sure that the tool has the right pressure.
- The air discharge is usually very loud and can damage hearing if exposure is prolonged. Wear hearing protection to minimize this danger.
- If the air being taken into the tool has contaminants (oil, antifreeze, or other substances), the discharge will spread throughout the area. Make sure that the area is ventilated, and that you are not over-oiling the tool.
- There is a potential for frostbite if the air temperature is low and the tool is discharging on you. Gloves can be worn, but if the tool is projecting air into your hand, it should be repaired or replaced.
- Compressed air tools are not generally insulated against shock, so contact with a live wire can cause electric shock. Check to be sure that there are no live wires in contact with the compressed air tool.
- If an air hose breaks or is disconnected, it can whip around at high speed, injuring anybody nearby. Protect the hoses from damage.
- Last, but probably the most important, is eyewear. Compressed air can project particles at high speeds, so always keep your eyes protected.
Tools can be dangerous unless we maintain them properly and follow the guidelines. Many hazards that come from tools can be easily avoided if they are used properly and with the right safety equipment. Don’t injure yourself in a preventable accident; follow the rules, and make sure that the tools you are using are safe.
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