Safety First: How to Use High-Pressure Hydraulic Tools Although using high-pressure hydraulic systems is considered to be one of the safest methods of applying force, there are still some important factors to take into account. They are powerful tools and can take on any bending, lifting, pushing or pulling work that you need performed, but there are some important safety factors that need to be observed. Surprisingly, one of the weak points of the hydraulic system when it comes to safety is that it is very easy to use. This can lead to complacency and in some cases abuse. As with any type of equipment use, there are rules to be followed and disciplines to observe in order to get the best from these machines whilst keeping yourself and others in the vicinity of the equipment safe from harm. Following these guidelines can also often ensure longer lifespan and greater efficiency of the machinery. In the following passages we look at the different areas of safety that will need to be taken into consideration when dealing with high pressure hydraulic tools. Apply standard safety rules and necessary precautions Just as with any equipment, it’s necessary to observe standard safety rules. This means that gloves, safety glasses, boots or safety shoes and a hard hat all need to be worn. As in any environment that can be hazardous, these should be considered fundamental necessities. Although most engineers will take the most obvious precautions to avoid accidents whilst taking the longevity of the equipment life into consideration, most mishaps and issues will come from either not operating the equipment properly or not assembling it in the right way. It’s important to understand each function in addition to being clear how it works. Take time out to learn your machinery and how it works. Considerations for Loading Lifting of loads that are over capacity is something that can result in trouble. Not only will the cylinders be at risk of damage but it can also result in bent plungers and blown seals. Keep in mind the following points: - Take an estimate of what you think the load will be, then apply a suitable safety factor. - Keep in mind that some of your pumps will be equipped with relief valves whilst others won’t be. - The use of a gauge will help to give an indication of which operating loads are safe. - Your gauge should also be used to determine whether there is any pressure in the system before you make any changes or breaks in the hydraulic connection. - Check your environment before you either advance or retract a cylinder. Looking after hydraulic cylinders Fundamentally, two types of cylinders are used in hydraulic systems. The single acting and the double acting. Single acting cylinders may be any of these types: · Pull · Push · Spring return · Load return Double acting cylinders work with the use of hydraulics and advance and retract. It’s important that you follow these safety guideline rules for cylinders: - If you need to position the cylinder on the ground, ensure that the base is able to bear the weight of it. It wouldn’t be funny to watch your hydraulic cylinder disappear into soil. A jacking based should be used, or at least a steel or timber plate that will enable the load to be spread. - The saddle should have the load spread across it, and not be point loaded. - Stay clear of and be careful around any areas that are directly below a load that the hydraulic cylinder is supporting. - Situate your cylinders in order to give enough clearance space for extension of them. - Excessive heat is any heat that is above and beyond 65°C. This needs to be avoided otherwise packing will be softened and hoses weakened. If there is heat that is not avoidable, use either a piece of metal or a heat-resistant blanket to protect the cylinder. - Keep oil connectors clean and wipe any couplers before they are connected. Dust caps are provided for a reason and that’s to keep dust and dirt out. If you choose not to use them, be aware that you’re likely to experience scoring of the cylinder walls and this can lead to the eventual failure of seals. - Over-extending cylinders should be avoided as not all of them have safety stop-rings installed. - If you need to add oil to the pump, check whether the cylinder is already extended, if it is be sure not to disconnect them. The trouble with having too much oil in the system is that your reservoir could become pressurised and blow. If it doesn’t blow it will rupture. Hydraulic Hand pumps Depending upon the speed and oil capacity of your system, there is likely to be a pump available for each cylinder. These may be power-assisted or they could be manual in nature. Those applications that are lower speed and where it’s necessary to have that added human ‘touch’ will usually have a hand pump. If the application needs faster movement, or the cylinder is particularly large, then it will use a power pump. It’s essential that the pump valve is suitable for the cylinder. For example, with single acting cylinders, there is usually a pump that has a 2 way or a 3 way valve. This equates to one outlet. When it comes to double acting cylinders you’re likely to find a 4 way valve which means it has 2 outlets. It’s dangerous to use a 2 way valves in combination with a double acting cylinder. Check the pump reservoir level before using. Fill using the correct procedures if necessary. Remember that pump hoses will shorten when they are filled with pressure, so ensure there is enough slack to handle this. Powered hydraulic pumps With regards to power pumps, you can expect to come across one of these types: · Air · Petrol / Diesel · Electric Dangers with Hydraulic Hoses and Couplers It’s fairly obvious that hose failure can occur after heavy objects being dropped on the hose cause damage, but it’s surprising how this escapes the thoughts of many engineers. We often hear stories of how something was dropped but then it was a forgotten memory and the next thing the engineer knows, the hose has failed and there has been a hydraulics disaster. Another strongly recommended tip is that hydraulic equipment should not be carried by the hose. Most of us are well aware of this, but you will need to keep an eye on any young apprentices who are as yet unfamiliar with the norms of operating hydraulic systems. There should also be an eye kept out for any sharp bends in the hose. The internal wire braids can be damaged from this type of event and this will weaken the set up and could result in leaks and at worst a lethal situation. An essential fundamental when it comes to hydraulic system safety is to check all fittings, hoses and connections to ensure that they are tightened as they should be and that they comply with the amount of pressure that they will need to be able to handle with your specific system. Oiling the system We generally recommend that hydraulic systems use oil that is suggested by the manufacturer. The system will usually have been manufactured around that oil and the creators know that it will perform best with that particular one. You will need to change the oil periodically. This will ensure that the system does not get damaged by dirty oil. Ensure that hydraulic oils do not touch your skin. On completing the job After you have finished using your hydraulic machinery, it’s time to get it ready for the next job. You will need to clean it before storing it. You can do this by wiping it down. You will also need to lubricate any parts that are exposed. In summary In conclusion, operating hydraulic systems safely entails using the right cylinder with the right pump and the right oil. Although these rules may seem obvious and safe, it’s surprising how many people fail to adhere to them and put themselves and others in danger. Hydraulic equipment is very powerful but it can also be very dangerous.