Insane Hydraulics

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Another Way You Can Hurt Yourself Around Hydraulic Equipment

Over the years of running the IH blog, I talked about safety-related issues many times - I promised you that if you choose to work in this industry you're guaranteed to take an oil bath no matter what, I warned you about the dangers of pressurized fluid injection, I revealed the golden safety rule that I learned to never break, and I related countless examples of how "less experienced" hydraulic equipment users choose to put themselves in all kinds of precarious situations. And today I'll talk about yet another threat, typical for environments that contain or service hydraulic equipment.

I bet you already guessed that if I am talking about something dangerous that can happen in an industrial environment due to certain actions of an individual - I learned it the hard way. You're absolutely right, and I am sharing it in hope that I can save at least one other tech from damaging him or herself the way I did.

So, I was running some tests on this new sophisticated oil filtering cart that I received for a maintenance job, using our test stand as the "guinea pig filtree", and I decided to use a separate particle counter to monitor the oil quality. Me being me, I did the connections quickly but carelessly and connected a low-pressure transparent drain hose of the counter to a high-pressure line.

Then I flipped the switch and started to increase the system pressure. The low-pressure hose was coiled over the bench, and my eye caught its movement, as it was straightening itself under pressure. Immediately a thought flashed through my mind "Hmm! Strange! This should not be happening to a drain line, should it?"

But... As my mind was processing the contradictory input, my hand was still turning the adjusting knob, increasing the pressure, and sure enough - at about 20-ish bar - the hose burst, sending a cheerful arc of hydraulic fluid over (and into) the surroundings.

The sight of the unfortunate calamity triggered my immediate reaction, which was rushing to the main switch to shut the circus down. However, the switch I was aiming for happened to be on the other side of the portable bench that was standing in front of me, and as I tried to make what can be described as a "tight high-speed turn" around it, I slipped on the oil puddle and ran my left knee straight into the steel corner of the said bench!

The lights went out for me for a couple of seconds... I can't recall the last time I felt so much pain! I did turn the damned thing off, but the pain was so great that I couldn't move (like at all), and so I stood right there, supporting myself with my arms, one foot above the oil puddle, another in it, terrified to look down at my knee. My wife eventually saw through the office window that "something wasn't right" and came to the rescue. With her help, I managed to get to a chair, sit down and evaluate the damage.

I am glad to tell you that I didn't break anything. The blow landed smack dub in the middle of the kneecap, and left a cut and a bruise, but it ended there (I think). However, I can totally see how it could have gone much, much worse!

The point of all this is - everybody knows that fluid (especially a lubricating fluid) on the floor means "slippery, and walking on "slippery" is a risky business. But if you work with pressurized oil, sooner or later you will witness an explosive oil leak, and seeing it often causes a person to inadvertently:

a) react in an especially rushed fashion, and

b) completely forget about the now extremely slippery floor,

and when these two factors combine - personal injuries happen.

Here are a couple of safety tips that I can give you after trying the "disaster recipe for myself:

First - listen to your gut and trust it fast and first! ( I did notice the hose move before it ruptured and I did find it strange!) Your immediate natural reaction to the internal scream "something is not right" should be to halt everything and only after the pumps stopped turning should you proceed to carefully check and re-check what's not right. You're far better off losing a couple of minutes double-checking stuff than facing something that will later be described as "tragic and hilarious at the same time".

Second - if you see an "aggressive oil leak", do not run! Do. Not. Run. First - think, then - walk. Your rushed reaction may not be the best one. An oil jet is perceived as something extreme, and your subconscious desire to shut everything down may push you towards the main switch, which is far away, while the correct action would be to recenter the DCV lever, which is right there in front of you! And once again - if you have to get somewhere fast to "stop an oil rain" - do not run over an oil-covered surface, walk!

I guess I should mention a third safety tip - always make sure you know where the emergency mushroom is. Why didn't I push the emergency stop of the test stand? It doesn't have one... (Yep - I built the bench myself a long time ago). It's definitely getting one now, though!