Hydraulic tools are very common in the utility industry. Equipment such as bucket and digger trucks, cranes, tractors, backhoes, trenching and boring, front-end loaders, shoring equipment, forklifts, chippers, and cable pulling equipment are only a few of the vast assortment of hydraulic tools used daily. On a smaller scale, tools such as cable cutters, crimping tools, conduit benders, jacks, presses and punch sets, to name just a few, have become more popular than less desirable manually operated hand tools.
The introduction of these valuable hydraulic tools has been a contributing factor in helping reduce the number of work-related accidents and injuries to our valued workforce. However, without safety-based knowledge of pressurized fluid systems employees can be exposed to extreme pressures and risks that could result in injury or death.
Everyone that works with or has contact with fluid powered systems should always take the necessary precautions to prevent injuries and damage to equipment and property. In general, when working with any tool or piece of equipment regardless of its design or operation, safety should always come first.
There are many different safety concerns that come into play when working around hydraulic systems. There is the obvious concern of being pinched or trapped between equipment components and other objects, or becoming entangled in the equipment’s moving parts.
With a well-developed and fully implemented Lock Out-Tag Out policy these types of accidents can be prevented. The LOTO policy should always be enforced whenever there is a possibility of accidentally or unexpectedly energizing equipment or lines, or when start up or release of stored energy from machines or equipment exists.
Another area of concern when working with hydraulic systems are the hazards that come from the injection of pressurized fluid into the body. Generally, hydraulic systems operate in excess of 2,000 lbs. of pressure per square inch. The human body has little resistance to pressurized injections and as little as 100 PSI is more than enough pressure for an accidental injection to occur. A pinhole leak can penetrate human skin as if it were a hypodermic needle. If a stream of pressure is produced, it is comparable to a plasma cutter when contact with the body is made.
Injection into the body is probably the most common injury when working with pressurized fluid. Tiny pinholes in a hose or a cracked fitting are the most likely locations that may cause fluid injection. These leaks are hard to locate. All too often, routine inspections are done with unprotected hands and fingers that are run over hoses and fittings while the system is pressurized. Hands and fingers are likely the two main parts of the body that receive the greatest number of injections; however, injections may occur anywhere on the body if precautions and safe work practices are not followed.
If an injection takes place, immediate medical attention is the best policy. Too many times, the injured person will continue to work, feeling only a slight stinging sensation. Not much thought is given to the extent of the injury. If left unattended, the results can include extreme throbbing pain, loss of motion to the affected area, infection, loss of a finger or hand and sometimes the entire arm, depending on the severity of the injection and time that has passed before seeking medical attention. Fluid that is injected into the body can damage body tissue and have crippling effects.
Another dangerous situation that is often coupled with the injection is the fact that fluids can reach temperatures in the hundreds of degrees Celsius. If safety precautions are not taken, contact with fluid temperatures of this magnitude can cause first- and second-degree burns that can be extremely painful.
Other types of injuries such as bruises, cuts and abrasions can occur as a result of failing or faulty hydraulic lines. Lines and hoses that are damaged and not properly secured may erupt and move violently in a whipping or swinging motion and cause serious injury to anyone who is in their path.
Severe injuries and death can also result from improper use of hydraulic equipment or from component failures. Extreme care must always be taken when performing routine checks and maintenance on hydraulic systems. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should consist of eye and face, hand and foot protection as well as properly fitted clothing to eliminate the possibility of snags becoming entangled in moving parts.
In the utility industry, applications that incorporate the use of hydraulic tools have grown significantly because of their flexibility, compactness, simplicity of operation and economy. When it comes to working with hydraulic tools, equipment and systems, however, there is no substitute for working safely. Just remember: Work Safe – Work Smart – Safety is a Work of Art!
Selecting Hydraulics Effectively
There are many different applications that are used when constructing and maintaining hydraulic systems. Gates Corporation, a provider of hydraulic hoses and fittings highly recommends the “STAMPED” method be used when selecting components that are used in pressurized fluid powered systems. This method includes choosing components according to:
Size: Choose a hose with an inside diameter that is adequate to minimize pressure loss and to avoid hose damage caused by the heat generated by excessive fluid turbulence.
Temperature: The hose must be able to withstand the system’s minimum and maximum fluid ambient temperatures.
Application: Determine where or how the hose will be used. You need to know the equipment type, working and impulse pressures, fluid to be used, bend radius, static conductivity, etc.
Material: The hose, including the tube and cover, along with the couplings and O-rings, must be compatible with the type of fluid to be used.
Pressure: Know the system pressure, including pressure spikes. The hose published working pressure must be equal to or greater than the normal system pressure and any pressure surges it will encounter.
Ends: Identify the type of threads the system uses and select couplings that are compatible.
Delivery: How many hose assemblies do you need and when do you need them? A dealer or fleet service repair technician with a well-stocked inventory can provide these services.
About the Author: Michael Stremel is the Operations Training Manager at Midwest Energy Inc., a Gas & Electric Cooperative in NW Kansas that provides services in 43 counties. A former journeyman electrician and lineman with 35 years experience in the electrical industry, Stremel also serves on the MEA Electrical Workers Training Initiatives Committee, the Advisory Board for two lineman schools and is part of the Advisory Board for Incident Prevention and USOLN/CUSP.