Health & Safety Tips on Using Water Blasting Equipment
Otherwise known as hydrojetting or hydroblasting, the term high pressure water blasting means the removal of surface material and contaminants by spraying pressurised (high velocity) water onto a surface.
It not only removes old coatings and rust, but also eliminates deeply embedded crystallised salt and other residue.
Water blasting is utilised by a range of industries including airports, roads and highways, heavy construction, marine vessel maintenance, manufacturing and processing plants, power plants, pulp and paper mills, petrochemical plants, and many others.
What makes this cleaning solution so effective is its ability to adapt to the requirements of practically any space, even those that conventional blasting methods would not be possible to use for eradicating dirt and any other undesirable materials.
Further, the use of hydroblasting equipment is also environmentally friendly, an important consideration for all businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
As a result, high pressure water blasting machines are today replacing many old cleaning methods like sandblasting which generates dust meaning deadly contaminants can become airborne; and other traditional solid abrasive cleaning applications which can often lead to severe erosion damage of surfaces and machinery.
High pressure washing does however come with it the risk of exposing workers to hazardous situations that can cause them serious injury or even death.
This is not surprising given that the waterjet produced by water blasting equipment can move at high-velocity speeds upwards of 3,300 kilometers an hour, producing a pressure so strong that it can slice through solid materials and cause serious bodily harm.
In addition, debris propelled by the water can hit eyes, skin and other parts of the body causing severe injury.
Confined space and respiratory hazards
Workers are often forced to work in small areas that are difficult to move around in, spaces like tanks or boilers. The hazard here is twofold. Toxic gases or lack of oxygen in a confined space can be fatal if the person in that space becomes trapped or engulfed. Further, any stored material can also pose as a threat because should it fall, workers may find themselves at risk of getting stuck or even being hit.
Exposure to chemicals
Workers often find themselves having to remove toxic substances and other chemical by-products from various surfaces. Unless properly fitted with protective clothing and gear, exposure to these substances and abrasives can be lethal or result in debilitating illness or long-term injury.
Aside from confined spaces, working with water blasting equipment can result in working areas becoming wet very quickly, resulting in slippery surfaces, potentially covered with debris, making it very easy for someone to slip and injure themselves.
Harsh working environments are quite common in the industries that utilise water blasting as a method for cleaning. Extreme temperatures, the type of clothing worn and other factors like moisture or humidity (brought upon as a result of water blasting in hot temperatures), can result in a variety of injuries including dehydration, hypothermia, sun stroke, and more.
Health and Safety
It’s clear that proper processes and procedures need to be established and implemented so as to safeguard workers using water blasting equipment.
Risks need to be identified, describedand assessed to determine the type of injuries they could inflict on workers, and control measures need to be put in place so as to effectively manage those risks.
Workers then need to be provided with information, instruction and training so as to understand how to protect themselves – how to keep themselves safe by carrying out their duties responsibly and with complete awareness about health and safety measures.
Health and safety procedures must be properly communicated to all workers, preferably in written form, so that there is a constant source of reference for those workers to turn to when in doubt.
There is a hierarchy of control that exists in terms of managing the risk hazards.
The first measure (and the most effective) is to eliminate the hazard or the work practice that could be considered a hazard altogether.
If this is not possible, then risk needs to be reduced by other means and these are:
Replace the existing hazard or unsafe work practice with another that is safer.
Reduce risk by separating that which is posing a threat from people, be it by way of a protective screen or barrier around where the water blasting equipment is being operated.
3. Engineered control
This refers to the actual physical control measures such as being able to manually control the spray of water or using back out preventers that stop pressurized tools like a high pressure hose from being pushed out the pipe.
4. Administrative control
Administrative control are the processes and procedures that are in place to increase protection of the workers. These include things like job rotation so that handling a specific task does not become monotonous as this is when carelessness sets in and mistakes happen.
5. Protective gear
This is the clothing and gear that workers would wear so as to minimise risk of any harm or injury to their bodies. This includes safety glasses, safety helmets, hearing protection, face shield, respiratory protection, and even high visibility clothing.