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Safety Tips

The dangers of canned air

January 12, 2011

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Canned air is commonly used in offices to clean dust from equipment such as computers and shredders. These products often are used without incident; however, lack of training in proper use can lead to flash fires and injuries, warns the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

Canned air is different from the air we breathe. The products are made of a gas that is compressed into a liquid and canned. The types of gases used vary, and some are dangerous when used improperly. Some of the more common dangers include:

  • Flammable ingredients. When canned gas is tilted, the liquefied and highly flammable gas can be released into the air and onto surfaces it contacts. This can be especially dangerous in poorly ventilated areas. When a flammable atmosphere is created, flames, sparks and electrical switches can ignite the concentrated gas, causing a flash fire.
  • Frostbite. The liquid inside canned air can cause frostbite when the skin is exposed to a steady stream. This can vary from an intense burning sensation to serious physical injuries such as skin cracking, and damage to muscles, blood vessels and nerves.
  • Asphyxiation and toxicity. When high concentrations of the gas are released into a nonventilated area, oxygen deficiency and possible asphyxiation can occur. The effects of inhalation vary depending on the type of chemical used, as well as the intensity and duration of exposure. When used properly, a serious breathing problem is unlikely to occur.

Simple steps in the workplace can help keep workers safe from these dangers associated with canned air products. Washington L&I recommends the following measures:

  • Find out who uses canned air and in what areas of the workplace it is used.
  • Determine whether the areas are properly ventilated. If they are not, move use to an open and well-ventilated area.
  • Check the contents of the canned air products in use at your workplace. If the product is flammable, switch to a nonflammable alternative.
  • Consider whether the use of eye, face and skin protection is needed when using canned air.
  • Make sure all canned air users – and those in charge of purchasing – are aware of potential hazards associated with use of the products.
  • Make sure users read the label on the can and follow all instructions for proper use.
  • Keep Material Safety Data Sheets available for complete information.

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