Compressed Air System Safety Training Resource

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Compressed air is generally a safe, reliable form of power and is a particularly useful utility to have in the workplace. It is flexible, odourless and non-toxic and can be employed in several different ways. It can be used to operate large machines as well as small handheld tools and it’s cheap, easy to maintain and can be used for long periods of time without overheating. However, when using compressed air, it’s important to follow the appropriate health and safety procedures as it can be dangerous if not used responsibly.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have responsibility to provide a safe working environment and employees, in the case of compressed air, have a responsibility to use air operated tools and equipment in a safe manner to protect their own safety as well as that of work colleagues.

Why is Compressed Air Dangerous?

Compressed air is released very forcefully and depending on the pressure, it can dislodge particles from surfaces. These particles can be dangerous because they can enter your eyes or irritate your skin and depending on the speed and the size of them, they can cause major damage. Compressed air machines are also very loud so there is associated risks that can also affect hearing.

When compressed air is used to force dirt and dust particles into the air it makes them airborne which can create breathing hazards. Exposure to airborne particles can cause irritation in the lungs, eyes and sinuses.

Another serious risk can be when pressurised air enters the blood stream through a break in the skin or through a bodily opening causing an embolism, which is an air bubble in the blood stream. This is an extremely dangerous medical condition that can result in paralysis, coma or even death depending on the severity of the embolism.

Many people don’t realise how powerful compressed air can be and can be tempted to fool around with it, however, horsing around in the workplace is dangerous and should always be avoided. A stream of compressed air to the head can cause the eardrums to be ruptured or the eyes to be seriously damaged and blowing compressed air into the mouth can damage the oesophagus and the lungs. Surprising someone with a blast of air could also cause them to react by slipping, falling or hurting themselves on nearby machinery.

Key hazards

There are various hazards associated with the use of compressed air systems and related equipment and below is a list of the key aspects.

  • The accidental release of high-pressure air, resulting from equipment failure.
  • Untrained or inexperienced staff using air supply equipment which can have potentially fatal consequences.
  • Noise from compressed air leaks and pneumatic machinery.
  • Hand & arm vibration from pneumatic tools.
  • Hot discharge pipes.
  • Moving parts of compressor.
  • Exposed drive shafts and belts.
  • Trip hazards from trailing hoses.
  • Health problems associated with working in compressed air.

Control measures

Anyone using compressed air should receive appropriate training to ensure they are aware of the risks and to understand how to minimise these risks. Here are some of the recommended do & don’t control measures which should be followed to reduce the risk of harm when using compressed air.

The dos

  • Take care, compressed air injected into the skin at any pressure can kill.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment where required.
  • Select low vibration tools from reputable suppliers.
  • Make sure you are trained and competent before using pneumatic equipment.
  • Report any hazards or unsafe practices.
  • Keep hoses away from grease and oil as this can damage the hose materials.
  • Keep hoses organised and stored securely to avoid creating trip hazards.
  • Secure the ends of hoses to avoid them whipping around if an accidental break in the hose occurs.
  • Remember that everyone, including you, has a responsibility for safety.
  • Remember blowguns should only be used for cleaning purposes where the use of vacuum is not possible or appropriate. 
  • Maintain the system as required by the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (PSSR).
  • Consider the replacement of quick release couplings with a 2-stage safety coupling.
  • Be careful when transporting the compressor to prevent injury, damage or oil spill if it tips over.
  • Place the compressor in a location that has clean, dry inlet air. Wet conditions can cause damage to an air compressor as well as electrical issues.
  • Perform a routine safety check before each use of the air compressor, checking hoses, proper power supply & oil level etc.
  • Make sure the unit is correctly connected into the electrical outlet by a qualified electrician.
  • Make sure all equipment is grounded to prevent the risk of static electricity.
  • Ensure the moving parts in the machine such as pulleys, belts or compressor flywheels are guarded.
  • Get the compressor unit electrically tested annually and perform any maintenance as soon as possible
  • Check your hose fittings to ensure they are tight, loose fittings can hinder the performance and/or cause damage.
  • Make sure a shutoff valve is installed, clearly visible and within reach while using compressed air.
  • Only use an external pressure vessel (Air Receiver) that is built to national or international standards.

The don’ts

  • Never point a compressed air jet at any part of anyone’s body.
  • Don’t block the end of a blow gun even if it has a cut-out safety mechanism.
  • Don’t use compressed air for general cleaning purposes such as work benches or clothes.
  • Never interfere or tamper with any safety devices fitted to equipment.
  • Never use pneumatic equipment unless you have been trained.
  • Don’t use blow guns without personal protective equipment, even at 2 bar damage can still occur.
  • Never add or change the oil in a compressor while the unit is running or has recently been used, the compressor could potentially catch fire while doing so.
  • Don’t touch or perform maintenance on metal parts immediately after operation as they will become hot, wait until the compressor has cooled down.
  • Don’t allow cords or hoses to be exposed on floors, aisles or low-hanging areas as they could cause a trip hazard or injury if a hose whips.
  • Never apply compressed air to any part of the body or directly at another person, even air pressure as low as 15 PSI can cause serious injury.
  • Don’t use air directly from a compressor for breathing purposes unless the system has been designed specifically for breathing air.
  • Never crimp or uncouple the pressurised hose, always bleed off the pressure before releasing any connections.


It is important to never point a pneumatic impact tool at a person, whether it’s a riveting gun or the compressed air hose itself, never use compressed air to clean a person’s clothing or skin. Serious injuries, sometimes fatal, have occurred when the nozzle of the gun has been pointed towards the body, even at some distance. Many injuries occur when clothing is dusted down and because of this compressed air should never be used for cleaning clothing.

Compressed air can be an extremely useful tool in the workplace, but it can also be dangerous when used incorrectly, make sure that safely procedures are always followed when working with compressed air. With the right techniques, you can enjoy the usefulness of compressed air without the risks to your health.

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