The Unseen Dangers of Air Compressors


By Kim Hillegass, Sears PartsDirect

An air compressor is wonderful piece of equipment that, as a single source of energy, provides power to a versatile array of tools. But the potential energy in compressed air could turn the air compressor into a high-pressure air gun or an explosive bomb if used or maintained improperly.

Before using an air compressor, familiarize yourself with the operating, maintenance and safety instructions in the owner's manual. Remember to exercise common sense when using an air compressor and air tools–pay attention to the environment and other people around you, and always be aware of the potential dangers associated with using an air compressor.

Risk of Fire or Explosion with Air Compressor Motor

Electrical contacts within the air compressor motor or pressure switch can spark, creating a risk for fire or explosion. Serious overheating caused by the restriction of ventilation openings in the air compressor also poses a risk of fire. The following tips can help prevent that from happening.

  • Operate in a well-ventilated area away from combustible materials.
  • Locate compressor no closer than 20 feet from the spray area if spraying flammable material.
  • Don't place objects on or against the air compressor that could block the ventilation openings or restrict airflow.

Risk of Bursting Air Compressor Tank or Tools

The air receiver tank and air tools are designed to withstand specific operating pressures. Trying to operate at pressures greater than the design or using a weakened air tank can rupture or burst the tool or air tank. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Drain the air tank after each use to prevent rust or weakening of the tank.
  • Never try to repair a weakened or damaged tank, or make modifications to the tank. Always replace the tank if it's damaged.
  • Don't make modifications to the safety valve or any other components that control air tank pressure.
  • Don't exceed the maximum allowable pressure rating of attachments.
  • Use hoses and fittings that have a PSI rating equal to or greater than the maximum pressure of the air compressor.
  • Use a pressure gauge when inflating tires, and add air in small increments.

Other Risks of Injury or Property Damage with Air Compressors

Pressurized air can be strong enough to seriously damage soft tissue, and will propel dirt, particles and small objects at high speeds. The air compressor becomes hot enough to burn skin during use, and objects can be caught in moving parts. The following are some tips to help prevent injury and/or property damage.

  • Use protective eyewear when using an air compressor.
  • Never point a nozzle or tool at any part of the body, other people or animals.
  • Don't touch hot surfaces; allow air compressor to cool down after using before performing maintenance.
  • Turn the compressor off and bleed the pressure from hoses and tank before servicing or performing maintenance.
  • Always keep protective guards and shrouds in place, and keep hair, jewelry and loose clothing away from moving parts.
  • Don't exceed 30 PSI when using compressed air to clean equipment.