The importance of operating hydraulic systems safely

Knowledge

When you operate systems as powerful as a hydraulic-powered one, a meticulous approach to health and safety is the key to avoiding accidents on the job. Here, we look at some of the key hazards posed by hydraulic machinery and the measures you can take to mitigate injuries among your team.

Hydraulic health & safety

Hydraulic powered machines are integral to keeping today’s industries moving; used in market sectors from construction and manufacturing to agriculture and transport and logistics.

Subject to extreme temperatures, long operating hours and intense pressure, machines that use hydraulics have to be carefully handled in order to avoid serious incidents that can result in life-changing or even fatal injuries.

That’s why it’s so vital to entrust the service, maintenance, and repair of your hydraulic equipment to a specialist technician who’s equipped with the health and safety training that’s essential for handling it safely.

What are some of the health and safety hazards associated with hydraulics?

Working with hydraulics presents a number of risks to wellbeing, health and safety. Here’s a few of the key ones to be aware of which we have broken down into four categories:

  • Stored energy
  • Temperature
  • Ignition
  • Injection

Stored energy

Hydraulic systems store energy, typically at around 2000PSI. The typical hazards associated with stored energy include unsupported or suspended loads. All raised components must be lowered to the rest position or supported via cylinder support posts or mechanical prop. Removing components from a hydraulic system that has components suspended by the hydraulic system can result in the raised component descending uncontrollably, often resulting in serious injury.

Temperature

Human skin tissue will typically scald at 48-degree Celsius. Although many hydraulic systems have integrated oil cooling systems, they can operate at 60-degree Celsius or more. Contact with skin at these temperatures can result in 1-, 2- and 3-degree burns.

Ignition

If a pin hole appears in a hydraulic service line, it can be hard to determine the exact position of the failure in the hose line due to the failure emitting a hydraulic mist or vapor cloud. The microscopic droplets of oil in the mist vapor can ignite rapidly and violently if they come into contact with a nearby heat source such as hot exhaust or turbo. This can result in an instant fire ball which can have devastating consequences.

Injection

Pin hole failures can also produce a fine jet of oil which can act similarly to a hypodermic needle. Often, when a pin hole appears the temptation is to run hands or fingers along the hose to find the exact location of the leak, this is typically when an injection injury occurs. In these cases, the wound can look benign but, it is imperative to seek immediate medical attention from a competent orthopaedic surgeon. Do not delay as time is of the essence.

Left untreated, this injury can result in the loss of the finger or in extreme cases the entire arm. As the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states, ‘the risk of injury through hydraulic injection is common to all hydraulic equipment irrespective of the system volume and can occur at relatively low pressures.’

DIY hose fixing and re-ending

With budgets tight for many businesses and even more so in the current climate, there can be a tendency for hoses to be either repaired using a DIY fix or re-ending (the process where the last few inches of the pipe is cut off and replaced with new fittings to artificially extend its life).

Leading industry bodies strongly advise against the practice of re-ending claiming that trade associations, industry experts and safety bodies all agree that the risks are too great; but the problem is still prevalent across the industry. Hydraulic hoses must never be repaired due to the dangers associated with high pressure systems, instead you must replace them with new, safe, compatible components.

Oil spills and fluid leaks

An oil spill doesn’t just pose a contamination and slip risk to those in the immediate working vicinity. Due to the toxicity of some types of fluids, spillages can also have devastating environmental consequences, causing a harmful impact on wildlife, as well as creating a widespread health and safety issue that can result in fines or compromise future operations.

Unfortunately, spills of this nature are not uncommon, particularly in the event of a hydraulic hose failure. It’s precisely for this reason that every hydraulic technician should be equipped with the tools they need to mitigate oil spills , and to dispose of hazardous waste responsibly. Always ensure that your hydraulic technician follows the right procedures to avoid unnecessary risks.

Pirtek’s industry leading health and safety culture

Anyone dealing with hydraulic hoses should receive hydraulic safety awareness training provided by industry experts to reduce the risk of fluid injection injuries and other associated problems, as we have outlined here.

For this reason, at Pirtek, we pride ourselves on a strong health and safety culture, which begins with our technicians undertaking our industry-leading Induction Training Programme. We are also proud members of the British Fluid Power Association, where we’ve been sharing our expertise in hydraulic-powered systems for over three decades. In addition, our partnership with NHS educates medical staff on how to address fluid injuries, and we have contributed to the technology, introducing the Pirtek Fluid Power Glove, the only glove available today that offers protection against hydraulic injection injury as standard.

We also offer external training to those working directly with hydraulic machinery, including Foundation course in hydraulic systems giving candidates the minimum recommendations for hydraulic training and our Hydraulics Safety Awareness course, which teaches participants how to safely handle hydraulic equipment. For more information, view our training courses, here.

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