Canned Air is something that almost everyone of us has used at some point at work or at home. The reality is no one really ever thinks about the dangerous potential this product has. I’ve seen people use it to clean dust off their desk, out of their car, or even to clean themselves off after getting dirty. While Canned Air can be handy, we must use it the right way. An employee working in a bowling alley suffered burns to her face due to a flash fire while cleaning a paper shredder using a canned-air product. The employee tilted the can, which released its contents as a liquid onto the shredder. As the liquid became a gas, it suddenly created a zone of highly concentrated, flammable gas that was easily ignited. I even have “first hand” knowledge of my niece getting a burn on her arm which was actually a case of frostbite due to the extreme cold temperatures the compressed air or “gas” in the can.
Canned air is a type of dusting product used to remove dirt and debris from hard-to-reach surfaces, such as computer keyboards, cameras, printers and other office equipment. Although this product can be helpful in accessing hard-to-reach spots, or a quick clean up, there are some dangers involved in using this product. Without training, users may not follow safe use practices because they mistakenly assume these products contain harmless, pressurized air. Canned‐air products actually are “canned gas” which contain a gas that is mostly compressed into a liquid. A variety of gases are used in these products and some are highly flammable. Difluoroethane is one example of a commonly‐used, highly‐flammable gas. Check the product label or the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to know what is inside the can.
Safe use of these products requires the user to keep the can in an upright position during spraying. This upright position allows only the gas layer above the liquid to be released from the nozzle. Unsafe use occurs when the can is tilted, allowing the liquefied gas to be released from the nozzle and saturate the air and any surfaces it contacts. If the immediate use area is enclosed or poorly ventilated, the gas is more likely to become concentrated, creating a flammable atmosphere.
In rare and extreme cases, frostbite can occur. When any canned‐air product is used you can feel the can become colder. This is caused by gas expansion, and the liquid inside is even colder. If expelled, the liquid can quickly and deeply chill skin, fingers, and any other part of the body it contacts. Exposure to a steady stream of this liquid can cause serious frostbite with physical injury. Even mild frostbite can cause an intense burning pain as skin thaws. To prevent frostbite, most canned‐air products carry a warning not to tilt or shake the can.
Fortunately, you can take a few basic steps to keep your employees safe from the possible hazards associated with canned-air products:
· Determine who uses these products in your workplace and where they are used.
· See if the products are used in enclosed spaces or poorly-ventilated areas. If they are, move use to an open and well-ventilated area.
· Switch from a flammable to a nonflammable canned-air product.
· Share this Hazard Alert with employees who use these products and any staff in charge of ordering canned-air products.
· Make sure users read the label on the can and follow instructions on how to use the product safely.
· Make MSDS available for more thorough hazard information.
· Consider whether eye, face, and skin protection is needed.
If you have any questions concerning your employees safety, please contact the LL Roberts Group PEO Risk Management department (toll free) at 877.878.6463.