Safety in the workplace is paramount. Few people would disagree with this statement, especially working professionals in the maintenance and lubrication fields, who, for the most part, are well trained in this area.
When it comes to the handling and transfer of chemicals and lubricants, the safety dress code for personnel must be specific and very clear. The need for the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) is absolute. Typical PPE will, at a minimum include protective footwear, coveralls, gloves, and eyewear designed to protect against skin and eye contact exposure to oils, greases, and chemicals for anyone handling, transferring, or cleaning up spills.
HERE’S A TIP: As each plant or workplace supports the use of a unique inventory of lubrication fluids and chemicals, determining the correct PPE requires maintenance to list all lubricants and chemicals on site. This list is then used to gather an up-to-date set of Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for each lubricating fluid and chemical used in the plant/workplace from the lubricating fluid supplier(s). Once this has been done, these documents can be referenced to build a specific PPE-requirement table listing for each fluid, based on what’s spelled out in “Section 8: Exposure Control/Personal Protection” of its SDS.
Based on this table, a standardized corporate or departmental set of PPE for lubricating fluid handling and transfer requirements can be developed. Note: Fluids that require additional non-standard PPE (e.g., use of a respirator for lubricants chemicals and solvents identified as potential hazardous to lungs) are best identified and listed as an additional PPE requirement on the work order.
At this point, the PPE lists and SDS library have become an asset, which, like any other asset, must be maintained to remain current and effective.
Keep in mind that lubricating fluids are heavy. With a standard 55-gal. drum weighing close to 500 lbs., proper training on the correct use of lifting devices, slings, and ergonomic devices is essential. In addition, to protect against accidentally dropped or tipped lubricating fluid containers, all boots and shoes should be grade-one safety certified with steel toes and puncture-proof, oil resistant soles.
Thus far, this article has focused on the common hazards associated with the storage, handling, and transfer of lubricating fluids into machine reservoirs. However, once those fluids are in a pressurized lubrication-delivery system, such as an automatic grease or oil lubrication system, hydraulic system, or in a simple manual pressurized grease gun, a whole new set of potential hazards confront the maintainer, lubrication technician, or machine operator. Referred to as “high-pressure injection hazards,” they can be lethal.
LUBE-APPLICATION SAFETY SPECIFICS
Most people are blissfully unaware that the types of simple electric/compressed air grease guns available from their local hardware and big-box stores can deliver lubricants at nozzle pressures up to and greater than 5000 psi. Nor do they realize that an innocuous hand-grease-gun can develop pressures up to 15,000 psi.
A 2020 study titled, Management of High-Pressure Injection Injury of the Hand in the Emergency Department, by S.O. Sanford and T.J. Mills, (see link below) noted that, “High-pressure-injection injuries occur when a high-pressure injection device, such as a paint or grease gun, injects materials into the operator [skin]. This injury most commonly occurs in the dominant hand and index finger.” As the researchers further explained, “The injection typically occurs to the fingertip when the operator is trying to wipe clear a blocked nozzle, or to the palm of the hand when the operator is attempting to steady the gun with a free hand during the testing or operation of the [grease gun] equipment.”
Similar injuries can occur when performing condition and leak checks on other types of pressurized hoses and lines (especially flexible-line material). Alas, it’s not uncommon to see maintainers, and machine operators in TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) environments running their hands over high-pressure flexible lines to feel for leaks or soft spots that, if found, can easily inject fluid into a curious hand. Leak checks are best performed using a piece of stiff card, NEVER your arm, hand, or fingers.
Proper grease-gun training instructs the operator never to place his or her finger directly over the flexibledelivery tube or nozzle tip when activating the trigger. If cleaning the nozzle tip, always take the non-dominant hand off the trigger or pump lever. Unfortunately, too many companies fail to provide adequategrease-gun training to their maintainers and machine operators.
Injection through the skin can occur at less than 1,000 psi. The higher the pressure, though, the more damage that can occur to the structure of the hand or finger. (If you ever received an inoculation in your arm through use of a medical pressurized jet injector, you may recall the “pressure” felt fairly low, as such devices operated between 1,000 psi and 2,000 psi. Imagine, however, what pressures of 5,000 psi to 15,000 psi could feel like or do to a body part.)
It could be easy to ignore a pressure-injection injury and, ultimately, begin second-guessing if it did or did not occur. Don’t. According to the cited Sanford and Mills study, “A high-pressure injection injury should be considered a surgical emergency.” To learn why, refer to the 2018 YouTube safety video titled, Hydraulic Injection, from Northwest Linemen College (see link below). It visually demonstrates how, if it’s not quickly addressed medically, a seemingly small injection site, with a slight area of redness, can turn into a devastating injury within mere hours.
The Sanford and Mills study found the overall incidence of amputation stemming from pressure-injection hazards was 48%, with solvents causing the greatest damage followed by grease injection. In 25% of all cases, amputation occurred.
Similarly, in an earlier medical study performed at New York Methodist Hospital, J.T. Snarski and R.H.Birkhan had found that high-pressure grease guns/systems were responsible for 57% of all injection injuries, seconded by hydraulic-fluid injuries. Furthermore, the researchers found that the overall incidence of medical amputation resulting from such injuries was 48%, and closer to 100%, when injection pressure was greater than 7,000 psi.
Even if affected limbs can be saved, long-term outcomes of the injured individuals are not always good. For example, the Sanford and Mills study found that among those who underwent successful surgical debridement, 50% ended up with a reduced range of motion; injuries adversely affected daily-living activities; grip strength was reduced by 35% in 75% of cases; and all patients continued to suffer from some level of neuropathic pain.
KNOWING WHAT TO DO
If you suspect a high-pressure injury has occurred, you (or the person in question) must seek professional medical treatment immediately. Studies show that the quicker these injuries are recognized and professionally treated, the higher the chance of limiting damage and saving an affected limb.
The Sanford and Mills study listed the following details that physicians require to determine the severity (and treatment) of pressure-injection injuries:
♦ Type and viscosity of the injected material (a copy of the fluid-type SDS is essential here).
♦ Time interval between injury and treatment (log the time that the injury occurred).
♦ Amount of material injected and velocity of injectant.
♦ Pressure of the appliance (or system).
♦ Anatomy and distensibility (swelling amount) of the site of injection.
If at all possible, use a smart phone, tablet, or other device to photograph or record a video of the injury, as soon after the incident as you can. Also photograph or record a video of the injection device.
In its safety video, Northwest Lineman College recommends the following first-response plan for pressure-injection type injuries:
♦ Treat Immediately (seek medical attention).
♦ Don’t let victim drive.
♦ Don’t leave victim alone.
♦ No food or drink.
♦ Immobilize and elevate the wound.
THE FINAL WORD
If you feel that you (or others) have ingested lubrication fluid, have skin or eye irritations through exposure, or believe you (or someone else) may have suffered a pressure-injection injury, seek medical advice immediately. Since time is of the essence in these situations, it is always better to be safe than sorry.TRR
Sanford, S.O., Mills, T.J. (Ed.). (2020, March 20). Management of High Pressure Injection Injury of the Hand in the Emergency Department. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/826620. (Accessed March 5, 2021).
Northwest Lineman College. (2018). (Hydraulic Injection). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9n23cY65bc. (Accessed March 5, 2021).
Snarski, J.T., Birkhan, R.H. (2004, Oct 15). Non-Operative Management of a High Pressure water injection Injury of the Hand. https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/2103EE7D3453DB43FE63774DB214AE18/S1481803500013099a.pdf/nonoperative_management_of_a_highpressure_water_injection_injury_to_the_hand.pdf (Accessed March 6, 2021).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ken Bannister has 40+ years of experience in the RAM industry. For the past 30, he’s been a Managing Partner and Principal Asset Management Consultant with Engtech industries Inc., where he has specialized in helping clients implement best-practice asset-management programs worldwide. A founding member and past director of the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada, he is the author of several books, including three on lubrication, one on predictive maintenance, and one on energy reduction strategies, and is currently writing one on planning and scheduling. Contact him directly at 519-469-9173 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, lubrication, lubricants, oil, grease, hydraulic fluids, hydraulic systems, lubrication delivery systems, grease guns, lubricant handling, lubricant transfer, lubricant storage, high-pressure fluids, high-pressure hoses, pressure-injection injuries, workplace safety