Easy safety tips for hydraulic systems and the people who work with them.

If you’ve read our blog, “Hydraulics 101,” you learned that we harness the power of hydraulics to fuel some of the world’s largest machines from cranes to aircrafts. With such massive machines to build and operate, it’s no surprise that they should be handled with care and caution. Without proper safety precautions, people can lose limbs, eyes, and in the worst cases, even their lives to the high-pressure and use of certain liquids (like gas) in hydraulics systems.

Thankfully, hydraulics have been around for a while. So whether you operate, design or build hydraulics systems, there are plenty of tips and videos to ensure your safety. Here are some of our top tips for hydraulic safety:

Start with common sense.

It may seem simple, but if something is big enough to hurt someone, respect the size and the amount of pressure that’s used to power the hydraulics system. People get too comfortable with the machine they’ve been operating for years, especially if they work in rhythm and time with the machine cycles. But complacency is dangerous, and that’s when people get hurt.

Get proper training.

Training is the most significant vehicle for improving safety in all walks of life. Ignorance is the root cause of almost all accidents associated with hydraulics. The greatest incubator for safety is where minds go to learn — the classroom. Fluid power instructors themselves must learn how to execute safe test procedures so they can help others do the same.

Watch out for improper couplings.

Never mix low- and high-pressure coupler components (that is, do not connect a low-pressure component to a high-pressure system). Mismatched components may cause a rupture in a hose or fitting.

Use the proper equipment to locate pinhole leaks.

Never use your hand to locate a leak in a hydraulic line. Because hydraulic fluid—often oil—is highly pressurized, compressed fluid released through a leak can penetrate the skin or eyes, causing severe injury, such as gangrene. Injection injuries from high-pressure hydraulic fluid require immediate medical care. 

When trying to locate a leak in a hydraulic line, wear eye protection and gloves. Run a piece of paper, wood, cardboard, or Plexiglas along the hydraulic line to determine the location of the leak. Always relieve the hydraulic pressure in an operating system before detaching or attaching a hydraulic line to make necessary repairs.

What to do if you come in contact with hydraulic fluid:

Hydraulic Fluid in Eyes
Eye contact to hydraulic fluid will cause irritation, extreme pain and in some cases permanent injury. Always use eyewear while working with hydraulic fluids. The immediate treatment recommended is to clean the eyes with cold water for 10 minutes. Also, remove any contact lenses and open eyelids wide apart. Consult a doctor immediately if the irritation persists.

Ingestion of Hydraulic Fluid
A small amount of hydraulic fluid(not all fluids) ingested won’t create any health issues. But, sometimes it will cause stomach pain, vomiting, nausea, headache, dizziness and intoxication. Also, it will cause irritation for mouth, throat and oesophagus. Don’t attempt to induce vomiting after swallowing hydraulic fluids. This will result in drawing the fluid down into the lungs. Consult a doctor immediately if the hazard labelled products are swallowed.

Inhalation of Hydraulic Fluid
Inhalation will irritate mucous membranes in the throat and respiratory organs. It may cause asthma-like shortness of breath, headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea. This could be a result of overheating of hydraulic fluids. Seek medical advice if the discomfort persists.

Maintenance

Proper maintenance is critical for all types of machinery and equipment, but it is imperative that you follow proper safety measures when performing maintenance.

  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when performing maintenance on hydraulic systems, including gloves and eye protection.
  • Do not rely solely on the hydraulic lift if you must work on hydraulic components with the system raised.
  • Set the working unit on blocks as a precautionary measure.
  • Unless you are bleeding the hydraulic system, do not run the machine engine when you are servicing the system.
  • Hydraulic fluid can be extremely hot and can cause severe burns, so let the hydraulic system cool before changing lines, connections, filters, or fittings.

If you design hydraulics, build safety right in from the beginning.

There are various techniques used in both circuit and machine design to ensure industrial hydraulic machinery is both actively and passively safe. The concepts are this: ensure no person or their limbs can enter the space being occupied by machinery capable of pinching, dismembering or killing them, and then confirm if such interaction is possible, safeguards are in place to protect him or her.

If your hydraulics systems are in need of repair or maintenance, IHI is ready to keep your hydraulics system in tip-top shape and is committed to keeping workers and the public as safe as possible. Give us a call at 1-800-722-6792 to get started today.