New guide released to safely service hydraulic equipment

Wednesday, 18 May, 2022

New guide released to safely service hydraulic equipment

Injuries involving the injection of hydraulic oil can be serious; depending on the pressure, the velocity of fluid being forced through a pinhole can reach close to the muzzle velocities of a rifle. While the initial wound can seem minor, the unseen internal damage can be severe. The area around the injury typically turns red and swells within a couple of hours, and throbbing and numbness can follow. Garth Woodhouse, a Technical Training and Product and Sales Support Specialist at Hydraulink Australasia, said that if left untreated, the injury can lead to amputation and even death.

“Not all oil injection injuries are so severe, but they can all be very serious. If an oil injection injury has occurred — or if you think it may have — please don’t tough it out. Even if you are out on the mine site, construction site, in the forest, on the farm or in the factory, you need emergency help immediately,” Woodhouse said.

Taking five minutes to check the surroundings prior to starting a job can help identify potential risks and hazards, and can also help to provide a moment to regroup and focus on the risky job at hand — thereby mitigating the risks to others. Woodhouse has developed principles to prevent serious hydraulics injuries; the principles are contained in Hydraulink’s ‘Check Five and Survive’ safety courses. The safety courses are designed to instil lifetime safety habits including checking, then checking again, with patience and finely honed observations to ensure uniform safety standards across applications ranging from one job to total enterprises, to multiple sites across companies.

“Hydraulics are vital to efficiency — fixed and mobile machinery just don’t function without their good and indispensable friend, hydraulics. It doesn’t matter if it is the smallest forklift or bobcat, or the biggest truck or harvester — or a 1000-ton lifting cylinder, which has the power to lift a fully loaded Airbus A380, or a massive face-shovel for that matter — they just don’t work without hydraulics,” Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse said that several industries depend on hydraulics that use immense multiplications of power by pumping a medium — typically oil — at pressures of up to 10,000 psi (700 bar) or more. When properly engineered for the job at hand — and with sensible safeguards in place — hydraulic strength provides power and precision that enables people to efficiently carry out jobs that previously might have taken many to perform manually and hazardously. Woodhouse said that hydraulics will not continue to work well without good servicing.

Anyone who has ever witnessed a cylinder blowing due a faulty relief valve — or hose connector bursting even in a demonstration — will know what I mean. You don’t forget it. Worse, it is heart-stopping to see a big load topple due to incorrect supporting practices. That can be — and is too often — tragic,” Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse explained that hydraulic machinery, both fixed and mobile plant, can have hidden dangers that are not always understood — these are known as ‘potential energy’. Potential energy, or stored energy as it is sometimes called, can be found in a number of forms; however, in hydraulics, it can take the form of load-induced pressurised fluid.

“The points following are some of the key best practice/safety points I cover off during training of service technicians, whether they are our own staff going out to a site they know, to a new site where their expertise provides leadership by example or if they are client staff whom we are asked to safety train to avoid accidents and injuries, which is our first aim,” Woodhouse said.

An effective first step to help instil awareness is a checklist based on proven programs such as Hydraulink’s ‘Take 5’ pre-task risk assessment, which is a mandatory requirement throughout the Hydraulink Group and the ‘Check Five and Survive’ risk assessment for every job.

Hydraulink’s Check Five and Survive checklist urges workers to have a conscious work process of Stop, Assess, Think, Plan and Proceed. The first step of the checklist, Knowledge, instructs workers to take time to understand how the system works — this will assist in finding faults and help to identify potential risks. Workers who have doubts or questions about hydraulic machinery are encouraged to ask.

As part of the next step in the checklist, Pressure, workers are reminded to de-energise the circuit and check for lines that may be pressure-locked, as well as accumulators and other sources of potential (stored) energy. Workers should also always confirm that it is safe to continue and treat equipment as being ‘live’ until confirmed otherwise. Workers are also urged to keep hands and body clear when checking for leaks on hose assemblies, and to use a piece of cardboard to locate a suspected pinhole leak.

The third step in the checklist, Heat, encourages workers to check for any heat sources, either fluid or external, such as exhausts. The oil in a hydraulic system can reach temperatures that cause severe burns; workers should wear appropriate PPE.

Workers are advised to check for what might move, as the fourth step of the checklist; does any part of the equipment being serviced need to be secured or supported to allow access for servicing? Where practically possible, workers should make sure any cylinder rods are either fully extended or retracted. When the rods are fully extended/retracted, the piston is resting on either the cylinder gland or cap end. This generally mitigates any load-induced pressure/stored energy in the line. Also, by doing this, any potential mechanical loads that could act on the cylinder, from potential movement if the equipment is not secured, will be held mechanically.

The final step in the checklist, Safety/Security, asks workers to ensure that equipment is locked-out and secure, and to determine if the working area is safe to start work. The surface-machinery on which they are working must also be deemed stable. Workers are advised not to continue until they are satisfied it is safe to do so. Hydraulink adheres to proven safety standards including ISO 9001, with the ability to handle compliance and traceability of input requirements.

“For comprehensive safety, such requirements must be consistent over all sites and for all work, whether in our workshops, or out on customer sites as part of our comprehensive and expanding 24/7 mobile service fleet to keep customers up and running. Reducing customer risk and distraction from their core business is part of our core mission, so machinery operators can focus confidently on their day-to-day workload,” Woodhouse said.

Image credit: Hydraulink Australia

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