Why It’s So Important to Always Respect the Hydraulic “Beast”

pressurized hydraulic systems are dangerousI don’t care how long you’ve been working around hydraulic equipment, it never does any harm to be reminded of the ever present dangers. If for no other reason than to prevent complacency from invading your attitudes and work practices. For this reason, when I come across stories like the one below, I feel duty bound to pass ’em on. And you should do the same.

“Brendan, I had a little accident at work last week with hydraulic fluid. And yes I came off second best. There was a colleague working with me and we had just replaced a main hose to an accumulator on a 30-ton fork lift. We had started the machine and tested the park brake. To our surprise it would not release. So we checked it over and the spool valve had jammed. The hose I had replaced must not have been blown out by the hose doctor, so I started to remove the valve — as asked to by my mate who had many years experience as a fitter. I questioned him about the stored fluid upstream of the valve I was about to remove but he assured me it was OK.

I undid the valve undoing the front first thinking I should be undoing the back. So then I started undoing the back waiting for a bit of fluid to pass, then all of a sudden BANG!!! 

High pressure fluid (approx 3000 psi) straight into my forehead. Suffering a large graze and showered in oil. Luckily just missing my eyes as I did not have my safety glasses on which I always wear when working on anything, but not expecting what was going to happen.

Once I cleaned myself up, I went to the doctor. The doctor had no idea what oil injection was or how dangerous it can be. He did not believe the graze was from the oil. He thought that I fell and hit my head. I contacted our oil company and they recommended I see another doctor. They also sent out a protocol on how to treat minor and major injection injuries. It just shows how you can’t let your guard down. I was very lucky this time!”

Yes he was lucky. VERY lucky. And as this story shows, more often than not, it’s complacency that maims and kills — rather than outright ignorance. This chap was aware of the hazards.

It’s best to ALWAYS assume a system is pressurized BEFORE you start working on it. And boy, if it’s got an accumulator anywhere, an “EXTRA CAUTION REQUIRED” siren should be going off in your head.

But the main takeaway from this which I want to share with you (and you should in turn share with all your colleagues) is the management of oil injection injuries. And here’s why:

“The doctor had no idea what oil injection was or how dangerous it can be. He did not believe the graze was from the oil.”

Fluid injection injuries are medical emergencies. And because they’re relatively rare (around 600 incidences in North America per year) your average emergency department doctor may not recognize the seriousness of the situation.

In an effort to raise awareness of this issue, the International Fluid Power Society recently released a webinar on this subject. If you work on hydraulic equipment or are responsible for employees who do, it’s compulsory viewing. Watch the recording here (name and email required).

Oh, and if out of necessity you find yourself working in close proximity to a pressurized hydraulic system, and you don’t feel at least a little apprehensive, I suggest you don’t have enough respect for the “beast”.

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