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Raising The Bar on Air Compressor Safety

As 'Occupational Health and Safety' (OH&S) requirements in Australian industry escalate, the pressure is on for equipment manufacturers and suppliers to shift their focus. Safe working conditions for operators and maintenance staff are of prime importance and Australian compressor manufacturer, Champion Compressors, taking these to a new level.

Champion Compressors specialises in the design and manufacture of rotary screw compressors, in which the inner workings are neatly contained in a hinged cabinet system. The fully enclosed nature of Champion's compressors qualifies them as 'low-risk' by preventing all access to mechanical hazards. However, according to Andy Fraser, national safety manager of Champion Compressors, manufacturers should also look at minimising hazards within the protective enclosure in the best interest of service technicians.

When the cabinet doors are removed for repair work, the compressor's key risk areas relate to the drives, which join the motor to the air compressor, and the rotating shafts powering the air-cooling fan. Other dangers pertain to the hoses, valves and joints that channel high-pressure fluids. Compliant with the 'Australian Standard for Safeguarding of Machinery' AS4024, Champion's air compressors feature fixed guards where the possibility of entanglement in moving parts may exist, plus pressure switches and safety valves in certain risk areas to avoid over-pressure situations.

Not content to merely meet Australia's stringent environmental health and safety requirements, Champion Compressors has taken safety one step further. In many cases, hazards are completely designed out during the conceptual design stage. 'While retrofitted safety devices - such as guarding and cut-off switches - comply with the Australian Standard, we anticipate that these will be removed or overridden by service technicians when they're performing inspection tests on operational machinery," said Fraser.

He explained that every Champion Compressor model undergoes a sound critique from a panel of service technicians before progressing beyond the prototype stage. As a final measure, an independent assessor is brought in to determine and provide control strategies of any identifiable risks.

Risk assessment expert, Frank Busch, has performed hazard identification analyses on Champion's CSI and CSF series of rotary screw air compressors. "This is the first time a air compressor manufacturer has taken the initiative to contact me for an audit - there's a different emphasis to the appraisal when it's from the perspective of overhauls and maintenance work," said Busch. In an end-user audit, the scope of the analysis is reduced, with the air compressor being effectively 'black-boxed' and classified as 'low risk' - in a manufacturer audit the 'black box' itself is investigated.

"'What really distinguishes Champion is its effort to minimise internal hazard in the design stage," said Busch. "The need for add-on guarding can be eliminated by making the danger zone inaccessible - which is exactly what Champion has done with their air cooling fan." OH&S regulations require designers to perform risk assessments in the design stage. Busch's model for this takes into account three fundamental parameters: the potential consequences that might result from a hazardous event, the frequency at which this event might occur, and the likelihood of the consequences transpiring.

Fraser and his team are familiar with this risk assessment model and refer to it as a design aid during the conceptual design process. Following his assessment, Busch concluded that Champion has put a lot of thought into the safety of its compressors. "They've embraced the safety philosophy rather than merely applying it blindly - from a work safe point of view this is the best way to go," he said. As a testament to this, Champion offers on-site safety audits for all compressors - old, new and from any manufacturer - for companies that want to absolutely ensure the safety of their existing compressed air systems.

 
 
 
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