Compliance Process Reliability & Maintenance Center Safety

Control Compressed Air Safety Hazards

EP Editorial Staff | March 12, 2020

Using compressed air in refractory application/removal, and in manufacturing in general, requires close attention to safety practices.

Using compressed air is essential on most construction jobsites and production lines.

For thermal operations and processing companies, it assists with the removal, repair, and installation of refractories that keep employees and materials safe. Equipment that requires compressed air at high pressures, such as portable mixers, gun machines, jack hammers, and shotcrete, can pose a risk, especially when used without safety devices or good working conditions.

Here are five safety precautions to take when using compressed air in fixed or mobile applications.


Portable compressors that are run by internal-combustion engines can generate deadly carbon monoxide. To prevent any problems, select a safe location with good ventilation to stage any portable compressors. Equipment should be positioned away from foot and vehicle traffic. Wheel chocks should be used to prevent drifting.

Hose connections

Pressurized hoses can unintentionally become detached from equipment or from the couplings site and begin to lash. Whipping hoses are known to break bones and cause cuts, contusions, and lacerations. To keep everyone safe, use safety coupling pins and whip checks on all hose connections.

Tripping hazard

Hoses left strewn across walkways and equipment paths or near high-traffic areas increase the chances of serious accidents. Hang hoses away from walking and traveling areas.


Using compressed air can increase dust particles in the surrounding air, making the air hazardous to breathe. Wear respirators when blasts of air suspend dust into the atmosphere.

Proper PPE (personal protective equipment)

Never use compressed air to clean workstations or clothing. Horseplay with compressed air is particularly dangerous:

• An eardrum can be ruptured or an eye blown out of its socket with as little as 12 lb. of air pressure.

• Oil and grease atomized in the compressed-air stream can cause infection if accidently injected into the skin.

• Compressed air blown into the skin can obstruct an artery and result in an air embolism, where a pocket is created inside a blood vessel by the blast of air. Once this pocket enters the brain or heart, it can lead to stroke or sudden cardiac arrest.

• PPE such as safety glasses, face shields, hearing protection, gloves, and long-sleeved shirts are important to harness the hazards.

It is also a good idea to provide or locate the nearest fire extinguisher for emergency purposes.

Compressed-air use is required to drive many of the different tools used for the demolition, repair, and installation of refractories used to protect thermal processing equipment. Hazard awareness and safety training allows refractory crews to use compressed air in a safe and efficient way to complete complex tasks. EP

Plibrico Co., Northbrook, IL, is a single-source supplier of aluminosilicate and high-alumina monolithic refractories used in the processing of aluminum, steel, sugar, cement, waste, power generation, and other demanding thermal environments. For more information about refractories or refractory safety, contact the company at or 312-337-9000.


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