Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Avoiding the Dangers of an Air Compressor

Air compressors, if not properly handled, can pose serious danger. Improper use and maintenance creates risky circumstances for an air compressor to operate. Maintenance should only be performed by a trained air compressor repair technician. Follow these helpful tips below to avoid the dangers of operating an air compressor:

Because of the large amount of air being pressurized into the vessel, there is a possibility of too much pressure, leading the container to rupture and explode. Be sure to check the pressure gauge and read the warning labels.

Several parts of the device may become ignitable when exposed to heat or open flame. Ensure that your air compressor is not operating near other devices that produce dangerous amounts of heat.

Oil leak
Because many air compressors run off oil to ensure the device runs smoothly, an oil leak can occur and pose a huge risk if not detected. A large explosion could erupt if a leaky compressor is used where open flame is present. Be sure to properly inspect the compressor to be sure no oil is leaking, and hire an air compressor repair technician if a leak is detected. Keeping water out of the tank is important as well, as it too can cause an explosion under large amounts of pressure.

There have been incidents where the air holding tank of a compressor explodes.  Although manufacturing defects can caused a tank to explode, the leading cause of air compressor tank rupture is corrosion of the tank from water condensate.  Basically these types of incidents are caused by failure to follow the operation and maintenance procedures listed in the owner’s manual for that particular equipment.

Water is a natural byproduct of compressed air.  It always forms inside the tank.  The condensation that forms inside the tank must be drained regularly to help prevent the bottom of the tank from corroding.  In fact all air compressor tank manufacturers require that the tanks are drained on a daily basis after each use.  The manufacturers also recommend closing the drain valves if the compressor will be stored for any length of time.  This will prevent moisture from entering inside the tank and corroded.

Preventing catastrophic failure of any boiler or pressure vessel has always been a concern of the National Board. Boilers in dry cleaning operations, pressurized steam cleaners in jewelry shops, air compressors used by painters, pressurized air systems used with power hydraulic lifts in auto repair shops, even instrument sterilizers in dentists’ offices – all are capable of causing injury due to explosion.  On one hand, they rarely are inspected for proper mechanical performance and structural integrity.  On the other hand, their operators are occasionally guilty of rigging the wiring or controls intended to prevent potentially explosive operational problems. And as a complicating factor, each state or province has its own inspection rules, and most apply only to commercial operations of a certain size or to water heaters or steam heat systems in dwellings that hold four or more housing units.

Here are some incidents where the air compressor tanks exploded, causing property damage and even death.

December 2013, Canada

A 44-year-old man suffers extensive damage to his lower leg, forcing doctors to amputate the leg at the knee in hospital.  He later died.  The man and two friends were working to restore an antique car when the compressor explosion happened.

Air Tank Explosion, Malvern, PA

An air compressor tank exploded while it was being used at a home shop.  The tank was not built to ASME code and not registered with the National Board.  The drain valve on the tank was removed, probably because it was leaking, and replaced with a plug.  The accumulation of water in the vessel caused severe corrosion and thinning of the metal on the bottom of the tank.  Ultrasonic thickness testing revealed a thickness of .070 inches.  At this thickness the tank should never have been allowed to be pressurized.  The safety valve was set at 140 psi and the pressure controls were assumed to be working properly.  When the pressure in the tank reached about 100 psi, the tank ruptured and flew across the garage.  Luckily, nobody was injured.

Make sure you drain your air tanks on a regular basis!

 Air Tank Explosion, White Plains, NY

This air tank compressor exploded in April 2009 at a homeowner's garage in White Plains, NY.  No one was injured when the tank failed. The condensation that forms in the tank must be drained regularly to help prevent the bottom of the tank from corroding. Since this compressor was in someone's home garage, it was not required to be inspected

Air Compressor Tank Explosion, Newark, NJ

This air tank compressor failed due to improper maintenance. The condensation that forms in the tank must be drained regularly to help prevent the bottom of the tank from corroding.

The Unseen Dangers of Air Compressors

An air compressor is wonderful piece of equipment that, as a single source of energy, provides power to a versatile array of tools. But the potential energy in compressed air could turn the air compressor into a high-pressure air gun or an explosive bomb if used or maintained improperly.

Before using an air compressor, familiarize yourself with the operating, maintenance and safety instructions in the owner's manual. Remember to exercise common sense when using an air compressor and air tools–pay attention to the environment and other people around you, and always be aware of the potential dangers associated with using an air compressor.

Risk of Fire or Explosion with Air Compressor Motor

Electrical contacts within the air compressor motor or pressure switch can spark, creating a risk for fire or explosion. Serious overheating caused by the restriction of ventilation openings in the air compressor also poses a risk of fire. The following tips can help prevent that from happening.
  • Operate in a well-ventilated area away from combustible materials.
  • Locate compressor no closer than 20 feet from the spray area if spraying flammable material.
  • Don't place objects on or against the air compressor that could block the ventilation openings or restrict airflow.

Risk of Bursting Air Compressor Tank or Tools

The air receiver tank and air tools are designed to withstand specific operating pressures. Trying to operate at pressures greater than the design or using a weakened air tank can rupture or burst the tool or air tank. Here are some guidelines to follow:
  • Drain the air tank after each use to prevent rust or weakening of the tank.
  • Never try to repair a weakened or damaged tank, or make modifications to the tank. Always replace the tank if it's damaged.
  • Don't make modifications to the safety valve or any other components that control air tank pressure.
  • Don't exceed the maximum allowable pressure rating of attachments.
  • Use hoses and fittings that have a PSI rating equal to or greater than the maximum pressure of the air compressor.
  • Use a pressure gauge when inflating tires, and add air in small increments.

Other Risks of Injury or Property Damage with Air Compressors

Pressurized air can be strong enough to seriously damage soft tissue, and will propel dirt, particles and small objects at high speeds. The air compressor becomes hot enough to burn skin during use, and objects can be caught in moving parts. The following are some tips to help prevent injury and/or property damage.

  • Use protective eyewear when using an air compressor.
  • Never point a nozzle or tool at any part of the body, other people or animals.
  • Don't touch hot surfaces; allow air compressor to cool down after using before performing maintenance.
  • Turn the compressor off and bleed the pressure from hoses and tank before servicing or performing maintenance.
  • Always keep protective guards and shrouds in place, and keep hair, jewelry and loose clothing away from moving parts.
  • Don't exceed 30 PSI when using compressed air to clean equipment.

Metropolitan Risk Management Services (MRMS)

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