Fluid Power Journal

Rethinking Hydraulic Safety

Ben-HowardAccording to the International Hydraulic Safety Authority (IHSA), hydraulics and electricity are both forms of transmitting energy, and most often hydraulics is comparable with electricity in regards to the risk levels faced by operators. Hydraulics, just like electricity, must be respected to maintain safety, yet, in a real-world application, the safety standards greatly differ—despite the fact that hydraulic lines are much more likely to burst out and cause potential injury.

The IHSA emphasizes caution, learning, and safety when using hydraulics, especially when large units of weight are involved. Hydraulic-operated equipment is used in all industry sectors, and most personnel are unaware of the associated hazards. Related injuries include soft tissue injury or crushing, fractures, dislocations, lacerations or skin punctures, amputation, burns, and fluid injection. Not only could injury and death occur, but so could environmental damage and property/equipment loss.

There can be an attitude amongst those who operate with or around hydraulics that ‘it won’t happen to me’ or the danger is ‘part of the job.’ There is a history of both fatal and injury-causing incidents collated on the IHSA website (www.hsac.ca) to emphasize that these incidents aren’t irregular occurrences, but rather constant threats for workers. IHSA has found a lack of standards in the workplace with regards to system assemblies, safety, inspections, education, identification, and certifications. IHSA has compiled supporting information that identifies how the public, the workforce, and the environment have been affected by this oversight in standards development.

Some industry bloggers believe that this lack of safety structure around hydraulics in the workplace has created a culture where it’s alright to put yourself in dangerous situations. This can be attributed to a lack of knowledge or safety education and lack of safety standards and practices. Much support has come from industries that recognize the need for this education and knowledge, yet not all employers and governments recognize hydraulics as a form of hazardous energy.

Designing hydraulic circuits for safety can prevent operator injury. Many hydraulic systems are found to perform inadequately after initial installation. For instance, companies such as Fluid Line Service Pty Ltd. in Western Australia know that flushing can be an important maintenance procedure to prolong the life and reliability of hydraulic systems. Investing time in safety training is a vital part of capturing long-term success. Knowledge not only supports safe practices, but also increases worker productivity and reduces the likelihood of work accident claims with hefty fines.

Personnel recognize they are valued when their safety is part of a company’s investment. The ripple effect caused by an incident slows down and often halts production and lowers confidence of the entire organization. Less output reduces a business’s potential to bring in revenue. Investing financially in safety training saves money.

Safety standards also make it the employer’s legal responsibility to limit certain tasks to employees who are certified, competent, or qualified—meaning that they have completed special training to perform specific duties and are aware of the related hazards. (Check out “An Employer’s Guide to Hydraulic Safety Awareness Training” on www.fluidpowerjournal.com.)

There are a host of online resources for employers to send their workers to start the education process:

IHSA – What is the risk? (www.hsac.ca/what-is-the-risk/)

IHSA – Safety Standards (www.hsac.ca/safety-standards/)

Fluid Injection Injury (www.fluidpowerjournal.com/2015/06/fluid-injection-injury/)

Surviving Hydraulic Failure (www.fluidpowerjournal.com/2014/11/surviving-hydraulic-failure/)

IHSA – Fatality Reports (www.hsac.ca/fatality-reports/)

Ben Howard is an engineering student living in Perth, Australia, who is interested in the mechanical and mining sector of engineering. He also enjoys writing and comes from a family of engineers. He can be reached at thehowardben@gmail.com.

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