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Are Air Compressors Dangerous? (8 Potential Hazards)

An air compressor is a device that uses an electric motor, gasoline engine, or diesel engine to convert power into potential energy stored in pressurized air. This pressurized air is then used for various tasks such as powering tools, inflating tires, and even providing breathing air for scuba divers.

If you are planning on purchasing an air compressor for your garage, shop, or house you might be wondering if they are dangerous to purchase or use.

If used properly an air compressor will not be dangerous. However, the high-powered tools that you will often use with an air compressor can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions.

While air compressors offer many benefits and are generally considered safe, there are some risks associated with these devices that must be taken into consideration before using them.

Potential Hazards of Air Compressors

The primary potential hazards of air compressors include the following:

  • Noise Levels
  • Explosion Risk
  • Fire Risk
  • High Pressure
  • Temperature
  • Electric Shock
  • Air Quality
  • Moving Parts

Each of these hazards can be mitigated by taking proper safety measures when operating or working near an air compressor.

Noise Levels

Air compressors can generate high levels of noise during operation due to their powerful motors and large fans. This noise can cause hearing damage if exposed to it over extended periods of time without proper protection.

To reduce the risk of hearing damage, it’s important to wear earplugs or other protective gear when working near an air compressor. It is also important to check the decibel level of any compressor you purchase to ensure it won’t exceed safe limits for your specific environment.

I discuss some possible ways to reduce the sound levels of your air compressor in an article that I wrote as well. It will give you some helpful ideas to reduce your compressor’s noise such as creating a soundproof enclosure, using a sound blanket, or purchasing a quieter compressor in the first place.

Fire/Explosion Risk

When improperly maintained or operated in an unsafe manner, air compressors can be hazardous due to the risk of fire or explosion caused by the combination of heat and pressure within the device. If the compressor has a rupture in the tank it can send debris or metal shavings flying (which of course is incredibly dangerous).

If an air compressor tank explodes it could easily send chips of debris through your skin and into various parts of your body such as the lungs, stomach, arteries intestines, bloodstream, etc. If something like this happens you could be at risk of a stroke, heart attack, coma, paralysis, etc. so if you are near a compressor that does rupture be sure and seek immediate medical help even if you aren’t showing any negative symptoms.

This risk is incredibly low with all compressors and is even lower on personal ones that you will be using at home but it is something that you should be aware of.

If using a commercial compressor always keep an eye on the pressure gauge to ensure that your compressor isn’t malfunctioning and overfilling the tank (which could cause it to explode). Although an issue like this will be rare it can happen.

To reduce this risk, it’s important to ensure all electrical components are properly grounded and inspect the hoses, connections, valve, air filter, gauges, and the air compressor tank regularly for signs of leaks, wear-and-tear or other damage.

To reduce the risk of a serious hazard like a fire the area around an air compressor should be kept free from combustible materials that could ignite in case of a spark or leak. Following this simple air compressor safety tip will reduce a lot of possible fire risks.

High Pressure/Temperature Hazard

Air compressors produce extremely high levels of pressure and temperature when operating at full capacity. This can cause serious injury if not handled properly and extreme caution should be taken when connecting hoses or performing maintenance on an air compressor.

In addition, care should be taken to ensure that any release valves are opened gradually and monitored closely while in use.

When you are using power tools that are connected to the air compressor you should also always remember that that tools will have tons of pressure as well. So all it takes is a quick squeeze on the handle or trigger to send that pressure into the tool.

This is why you should be sure to wear all of the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as designed by OSHA or the occupational safety authority in your area of the world during compressed air use on a job site.

Most of the time you will need to wear some (or all) of the following protective gear:

  • Gloves
  • Face Shields, Goggles, or Safety Glasses
  • A full layer of clothing (the less of a body opening you have the safer that skin will be)
  • Masks (if working with dust or using for cleaning purposes)

Electric Shock

Electric shock is a significant risk with air compressors due to the presence of high-voltage electrical components. Air compressors should always be operated according to safety guidelines and connected to an appropriate circuit breaker or ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) for additional protection from electric shocks.

Air Quality

The air generated by an air compressor contains oil vapors and other contaminants that can have adverse effects on your health if inhaled over long periods of time. It is important to ensure that the machine is properly maintained so that it produces clean, breathable air free of any hazardous materials.

Because of this workers who are in close proximity to an air compressor should wear masks or respirators to reduce their exposure to these contaminants.

Of course, you can also just be sure that the compressor is only used in an area that is wide open with tons of air movement. This will virtually eliminate the risk of the air quality being affected and make sure you have plenty of clean air.

You can also deal with this issue by keeping the compressor in a separate area of the garage or shop where you are working.

Moving Parts

All air compressors will have at least some moving parts that could possibly injure you if you aren’t careful such as belts, safety valves, pulleys, etc. If you are using a large air compressor putting it behind safety barriers is a good option as is making sure that any safety nozzles on the compressor or tools are working properly.

Air Compressors Usefulness Despite The Risks

Air compressors are incredibly useful pieces of equipment that can be used in a variety of applications. They are most commonly used to power pneumatic tools, such as nail guns and air drills, but they also have many other uses.

The main advantage of air compressors is their ability to generate and store pressurized air quickly and cost-effectively. This makes them ideal for powering pneumatic tools which require a constant supply of compressed air in order to operate efficiently.

On top of this, air compressors can also be used to transfer energy from one location to another, making them ideal for powering remote machinery. Furthermore, the fact that they are relatively small and portable means that they can easily be moved from one place to another if necessary.

Overall, despite any possible risks or dangers associated with them, air compressors remain incredibly useful pieces of equipment due to their ability to generate pressurized air quickly and cost-effectively. As long as sensible safety procedures are followed when handling them then there should not be any major difficulties encountered when operating them.

Therefore, although there may be some risks involved with using air compressors, these should not deter people from taking advantage of their many useful applications.

Final Thoughts

Air compressors can pose potential risks due to their strong motors and the high levels of pressure/temperature they generate during operation.

However, these risks can be substantially reduced by following proper safety protocols such as wearing protective gear, inspecting hoses and connections regularly for leaks, avoiding combustible materials near the device, and opening release valves gradually while monitoring them closely throughout use.

Ultimately, with proper precautions in place, air compressors can provide many valuable benefits without posing any unnecessary risk to people who are using them.