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Think Safety: The do’s and don’ts of hydraulics

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Enerpac (A Division of Actuant Corp)  provides guidance to businesses on the safe and efficient operation of hydraulic equipment at worksites.
 
Hydraulics not only allows difficult tasks to be performed with relative ease, but also with a degree of precision and control that cannot easily be attained with other forms of equipment.
 
High-pressure (700 bar) hydraulic tools pack more force into a lighter and more ergonomic package for tasks such as lifting, positioning, pulling, pushing, spreading, clamping, holding, bending, straightening, forming, fabricating and maintenance.
 
But the very simplicity of high pressure hydraulic tools can often lead to their abuse, especially when users fail to comprehend the tremendous forces generated with a minimum of input. Though hydraulic power is one of the safest methods of applying force, proper rules must be observed to avoid common mistakes.
 
Global high-force hydraulics leader Enerpac draws upon 100+ years of experience and expertise to conduct Think Safety courses for industries including mining, oil and gas, construction and infrastructure, engineering and metalworking, shipbuilding as well as energy generation and distribution.
 
Enerpac suggests simple guidelines for operators to ensure their own safety as well as the safety of other workers in the vicinity of the job and longer life and efficient functioning of equipment.
 
Think Safety courses are arranged by Enerpac for issues unique to particular site conditions encountered in these industries, drawing on the expertise of the strong Enerpac technical support staff.
 
Enerpac’s guidelines for safe operation of hydraulic equipment
 
First, dress for the job
 
Safety glasses, hard hat, gloves, safety shoes or boots and protective clothing relevant to the particular site conditions must be worn by the operator prior to handling or operating the hydraulic tools.
 
Equipment set-up
 
The equipment set-up must be checked completely before beginning work. Most problems encountered in a hydraulic system can be traced back to improper assembly or operation.
 
The load must be positioned on firm, flat ground and if possible, using a jacking base to prevent the load from ‘kicking out’ or the reaction force punching a hole in the floor.
 
Hydraulic tools must be kept away from heat and dirt. It is important to keep oil connections clean, and use dust caps to keep dirt out. Heat above 65ºC will soften packings and weaken hoses. If it is necessary to use heat, one could shield the cylinder with a blanket or a piece of sheet metal to deflect the heat.
 
When fitting a saddle into the end of the plunger, ensure that the face of the saddle is hard up against the face of the plunger.
 
Equipment usage and maintenance
 
One should only lift loads that do not exceed the capacity of the system. Overloading can damage cylinders, blows seals and bends plungers. The general rule of thumb is to estimate the load and then double it. For instance, a 10-ton load will require a 20-ton ram. Also, a gauge should be used to indicate safe operating loads and pressure levels.
 
Using products to their maximum repeatedly will lead to premature failure. The 80% rule for hydraulics is to leave 20% of the plunger inside the base to provide greater stability and use at 80% of rated load capacity.
 
Use of an extension on the pump handle is not allowed as it could tip the pump forward and jam and damage the user’s knuckles. It can also make the pump become unstable or pressurised beyond its safe limits.
 
Hydraulic systems are designed to use hydraulic oil only, as incorrect oil will damage the system and make it unsafe to use.
 
On completing the job, the operator needs to release the pressure gently. Releasing the pressure in a system suddenly will cause the needle to snap back, throwing the gauge out of calibration. A snubber valve will also dampen out any pressure fluctuations, thus giving a more accurate, easy to read pressure or force indication.
 
Before storing hydraulic equipment, make sure it has been properly cleaned and lubricated where necessary to ensure its longevity and efficient functioning over the long term.
 
Hose management
 
One of the most delicate parts of a hydraulic pump, a hose is also essential to its functioning. One should always leave some slack in the hose. As hoses pressurise, they shorten and may pull out of the end fittings in the absence of slack.
 
Hoses should never be placed directly below the load. Dropping heavy objects on it will lead to hose failure. Additionally, sharp bends in the hose should be avoided as these could damage the internal wire braids.
 
It is also important to carry equipment by the cylinder and the pump, never by the hose as the latter can strain the hose with the excessive strain causing the braids to fracture or pull out of the crimp, resulting in leaks.
 
Companies can add the value of safety to the power and convenience of high pressure hydraulic tools through the selection of the correct size cylinder, the right pump to operate it, the right choice of accessory equipment, together with the careful observance of some simple safety rules.

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