Compressed Air and Compressed Air Equipment

Compressed air is air that has been placed under a pressure greater than atmospheric pressure. It is used primarily as a medium for the transfer of energy in industrial processes. In addition, compressed air having Grade D purity is used to provide breathable air to supplied air respirators.

Compressed Air and Compressed Air Equipment

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What are the hazards associated with compressed air and compressed air equipment?

The physical hazards associated with compressed air and compressed air equipment are related to the sudden release of energy due to a rupture of a compressed air receiver or detachment of pneumatic tools.

The health hazards associated with compressed air result primarily from the formation of an air embolism in the bloodstream when compressed air penetrates the skin into the blood stream; for example when used at too high pressure to remove contaminants from workers' clothing. The secondary indirect health effects that result from the use of compressed air are associated with the agitation of settled dust into the air and into the breathing zone of employees. Depending upon the type of dust, health effects can range from slight irritation to inhalation of dusts that cause serious occupational diseases (e.g., byssinosis, silicosis). In addition, employees using air compressors with supplied-air respirators may be exposed to toxic air contaminants if compressors are not properly maintained and located to provide at least Grade D breathing air.

What can I do to protect myself?

Never operate an air compressor that exhibits signs of metal fatigue or weakness in the receiver. Never use compressed air for cleaning clothing unless it has been reduced below 30 psi. Be sure to drain the receiver frequently to prevent the buildup of water and oil.

When using a compressor to provide breathing air to a supplied-air respirator, be sure to locate the compressor away from any sources of air contaminants. Be sure all breathing air compressor alarms are properly functioning.

What resources are available to assist employers?

Safety and Health Programs

The example workplace self-inspection checklist addresses the safety precautions regarding the use of compressors and compressed air in the workplace. This example respiratory protection program can be made site-specific to meet the employer's needs.

Training and Outreach Services

In addition, the education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request. 

Lastly, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including streaming video services) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).

A-Z Safety and Health Topics

The A-Z safety and health topics page for respiratory protection provides additional resource information. 

Consultation Services

The consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.

What standards apply?

OSH has adopted the following standards which are applicable to compressed air in North Carolina. Note: Please also check the standards information and activity webpage to see if there has been any recent or upcoming regulatory activity on this topic. 

General Industry

Maritime, Shipyard Employment

  • 29 CFR 1915.172 - portable air receivers and other unfired pressure vessels 


Additional OSH standards applicable to compressed air and compressed air equipment include:

General Industry

Maritime, Shipyard Employment


Other Applicable Standards

The Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.  


Where can I learn more?

Compliance Documents

Industry Guides

Technical Assistance

If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to or by calling 919-707-7876.