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.
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.
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.
29 CFR 1910.169 - air receivers
Maritime, Shipyard Employment
29 CFR 1915.172 - portable air receivers and other unfired pressure vessels
29 CFR 1926.306 - air receivers
Additional OSH standards applicable to compressed air and compressed air equipment include:
29 CFR 1910.134 - respiratory protection
29 CFR 1910.242 - hand and portable powered tools and equipment
29 CFR 1910.243 - guarding of portable powered tools
Maritime, Shipyard Employment
29 CFR 1915.131 - tools and related equipment, general precautions
29 CFR 1926.304 - power-operated hand tools
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?
Standards Directive: STD 01-10-002 (STD 1-10.2), Drains on Air Receivers 29 CFR 1910.169(a)(2)(i) and (b)(2) Citation Guidance, provides an explanation of the standard to ensure uniform enforcement guidance.
Standards Directive: STD 01-13-001 (STD 1-13.1), Air Nozzle Pressure for Cleaning 29 CFR 1910.242(b) and 41 CFR 50-204B; Clarification of Effective Chip Guarding, provides an explanation of the standard to ensure uniform enforcement.
Standards Notice: SN 56, Heavy and Light Duty Pneumatic Staplers, provides an explanation of the applicable standards for these two types of pneumatic tools and provides citation guidance to ensure uniform enforcement.
Industry Guide 48 - OSHA Construction Industry Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training provides requirements for standards related to compressed air along with other construction standards.
Industry Guide 49 - OSHA General Industry Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training includes requirements for standards related to compressed air in general industry.
Industry Guide 53, OSHA Shipyard Employment Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training highlights the requirements of standards related to compressed air in shipyard employment.
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 email@example.com or by calling 919-707-7876.