Common Hazards of Pneumatic Tools and How to Avoid Them

The highly compressed air that gives these tools power also poses safety issues.

Pneumatic tools are handy because they’re lighter and often smaller than their electric-powered and gas-powered counterparts. Also known as air tools, pneumatic tools are powered by an air compressor tank. Examples range from hammers, nail guns, grinders and sanders to air rock drills and paving breakers (jackhammers).

The source of their power, which makes these tools convenient and easy to handle, also introduces unique hazards. To avoid hurting yourself or those around you, take extra precautions when using them.

Related: Common Safety Mistakes When Using a Nail Gun

What is the main danger associated with pneumatic tools?

According to OSHA, the main danger of pneumatic tools is the powerful air pressure, which can shoot objects across the room at high velocity. Drill attachments and fasteners, such as nails or staples, can fly off and become airborne hazards.

Pneumatic tools are also extremely noisy and can threaten the operator’s hearing over time unless the appropriate hearing protection is used.

Pneumatic safety: General tips for using air-powered tools

  • Follow these safety guidelines when using pneumatic tools.
  • Review the user’s manual to understand how the tool should and shouldn’t be used and how its safety features work.
  • Wear the appropriate PPE. Hearing protection is a must. Safety glasses, a face shield, head protection, gloves and safety boots can protect you from flying objects. Add a dust mask if you’re working with a sander or another tool that creates dust.
  • Set up screens or shields to protect people nearby from fragments, nails, sawdust and wood chips that can get kicked up or ricochet off objects.
  • Look over the tool, including gauges and connectors, before each use. Check hoses regularly for bulges, cuts or deterioration. Replace any worn hoses immediately.
  • Don’t use any pneumatic tool at a pressure that surpasses the manufacturer’s rating.
  • Use only the attachments recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Keep tools clean and dry. A pneumatic tool may fail if any part is blocked by water, oil or solid debris.
  • Use a safety clip or retainer to prevent attachments, such as a drill bit on a pneumatic drill, from being ejected while you’re using the tool.
  • On a worksite, post warning signs where pneumatic tools will be used.
  • Operate the compressor only in a well-ventilated area.

Pneumatic hose safety tips

  • A pneumatic hose can turn into a whipping hazard if it becomes disconnected or the coupling blows out, so it’s important to take hose safety precautions.
  • Make sure all air hose connections are secured by a short wire or a positive locking device to prevent accidental disconnection.
  • Blow out the air line before connecting a tool.
  • Install a safety excess flow valve to any hose more than ½ inch in diameter. The valve will reduce pressure if the hose fails and prevent a whipping hazard.
  • Turn off the air pressure to the hose when the tool is not in use or when changing accessories.
  • Never hold the tool by its hose. This can damage the hose or cause it to become disconnected.
  • Never point the air gun at anyone.
  • Take precautions to make sure air hoses don’t create a tripping hazard.

Compressed air safety tips

  • Know how to handle the air compressor, and the compressed air, with safety in mind.
  • Keep the air compressor tank close by, with the air shutoff valve visible and within reach.
  • To prevent overheating, do not place objects that could impede air flow on or against the air compressor.
  • Make sure the compressed air is clean and dry to prevent tool damage.
  • Never use compressed air to blow off debris. This can cause the debris to fly back at the operator or ricochet and injure someone nearby. If you need to clean a site of dust or dirt, use an industrial vacuum or broom instead.

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