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High Pressure Injection Injuries

Forestry operators and maintenance employees are used to dealing with the obvious dangers of falling trees or moving machinery, but they may be less familiar with a critical danger that can cause crippling injuries or death – “high pressure injection injuries”.
 
Hydraulic fluids are relatively harmless to work with until they are pressurized. Hydraulic fluid under pressure is dangerous. With forestry equipment, contact with high pressure fluids is likely to come from hydraulic leaks. A tiny break or pin hole in a hydraulic line or a failure of a fitting can release hydraulic fluid in an almost invisible stream at over 3000 psi (200bar). (Injection injuries can happen with any substance including water or air with as little as 100psi (7 Bar) pressure).
 
The hands and fingers are most at risk from high pressure injection injuries. If an operator or maintenance staff are searching for a high-pressure leak with their hands or investigating some unrelated problem, they might feel a sting like an insect bite or a sharp wire cut and not consider it serious at first. The entry site may be so tiny that it looks like a pin prick. Other wounds might be larger and look like a cut or tear of the skin but in both cases major damage can occur.
 
 With this type of injury high pressure fluid is injected deep under the skin and penetrates the blood stream, muscles and tendons. Depending upon the type of fluid you may feel pain, swelling, and redness. Numbness and throbbing rapidly follow, and after six hours you will know you've been seriously injured. An untreated, a high-pressure injection injury can result in compartment syndrome (reduced blood flow in affected part / limb of the body), necrotic tissues (dead skin tissue), amputations, and even death.
 
Seek Medical Attention Immediately
If an injury such as this does occur, the injured worker must be transported for medical treatment as quickly as possible since time is crucial. Importantly make sure the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for any fluids used (hydraulic fluid, fuel etc) are readily available and provided to medical staff. Take the container of the fluid with you if possible. Each manufacturer will use different additives in their product which may change the type of medical treatment provided.     
 
Preventing high pressure injection injuries

  • Depressurize high pressure lines before working with them. Never assume a machine’s hydraulic system is depressurized just because the machine is turned off. Consult the operator’s manual for the specific depressurization procedure for the machine.
  • Do not use your hand to locate a leak.
  • To locate hydraulics leaks, use a piece of cardboard, wood or similar in place of your hand.
  • Do not expose your hand or arm to potential leaks.
  • Wear safety glasses and appropriate gloves but be aware that high pressure fluid can penetrate even heavy welding gloves.