Hydraulic Fluid Safety
All workers are aware of the hazards that electricity poses on their health and safety. There is another type of energy, hydraulic energy whose hazards are not as well known. Hydraulic fluid is used to power equipment on every construction and industrial site in Nova Scotia. But the hazards of exposure to hydraulic fluid are not often talked about. This article will discuss some of the concern of hydraulic fluid safety.
Hydraulic fluid can cause fires. The mineral oil based fluid is highly flammable and if it leaks onto hot surfaces such as engines, electric heaters or welding arcs it can burst into flames. The chance of fire increases when the fluid is sprayed from a leak. This spray is capable of travelling up to 10m (30ft) from the source of the leak. Fires caused by hydraulic fluid leaks burn very hot.
Besides causing fires, the fluid can be hot while it is running through the hoses lines of the equipment. When working around a piece of equipment and the fluid is at operating temperatures, never put your hand near any components or the fluid itself. This is a good example of where proper training will come in handy.
Hydraulic fluid is a lubricant so slipping is another hazard that should be watched for. Fluid leaking from a hose line can end up on the floor, on the equipment itself, or even on an employee’s hands or boots while cleaning up the spill. Clean up the fluid from all surfaces to prevent a potentially serious injury from arising
Because of the high heat that hydraulic fluid works at, workers run the risk of being burned either by the fluid being sprayed on them or by coming into contact with the hoses or fittings. The spray from a burst hose line caused first, second and third degree burns on a bulldozer operator when the line burst. Checking to ensure the hoses are in good shape could have prevented this serious incident.
Pinhole leaks from hydraulic lines can cause severe injury and even death. The pressure from the leak causes the fluid to be injected deep under the skin. At the time of injury it may only feel like a small pin prick. Hours later, extreme pain and swelling show that the injury is serious. The blood supply is endangered, which can lead to amputation of the exposed body part or death.
Another hazard of hydraulic fluid is its impact on the environment. Hydraulic fluid will sink to the bottom of ocean. From there, it can be absorbed by fish, making them ill or killing them. If consumed by another animal that is higher on the food chain, that animal can also become ill or die as well. On land, some chemicals in hydraulic fluid may sink into the groundwater, while others may stay on the top of the soil. This will depend on the type of soil, how much rain falls after the spill and how much fluid is spilled.
The best way to protect yourself, your employees, equipment, and the environment is to be aware of the proper way to work with hydraulic fluid. Training and MSDS will provide the necessary information to allow you operate hydraulic equipment safely and what precautions to take with hydraulic fluid in order to return to port safely. Paragon Safety Ltd. Is a training partner for the Hydraulic Safety Authority of Canada and we offer four hydraulic fluid safety courses that will help you and your staff be prepared for the hazards of this material. For more information on the courses, see Hydraulic Fluid, Course Descriptions.