Many people underestimate the power of a pressure washing machine. Serious and even fatal injuries can result when using pressure washers improperly or if basic safety measures are ignored. The two main types of pressure washing machines are electric and gas. Electric machines emit water at pressures exceeding 1,000 pounds per square inch (PSI). Many gas pressure washers exceed 2.000 PSI and are capable of reaching pressures as high as 4,000 PSI on industrial units. Higher pressure is obviously a faster and more effective cleaning tool… but with the greater pressure, comes the greater chance for serious injury.
Serious injuries from a pressure washer may include abrasions, slip and falls, blindness, and high-pressure injection. The sheer pressure of water alone is powerful enough to cause an injury, but using chemicals during the cleaning process can make a bad situation even worse. Injuries and wounds sustained while pressure washing can appear deceptively benign but should always be examined and treated by a doctor or qualified emergency care provider.
Abrasions are a common injury associated with pressure washing. To reduce the risk of getting abrasions, wear protective clothing including gloves, closed shoes and long pants. Avoid pointing the pressure washer at yourself, other people and pets. Do not depress the trigger until you are sure of where the gun is pointing and use care not to spray your hands, feet or legs.
Slips and falls can lead to hospitalization or death. Wet surfaces will be more slippery and ice can form rapidly in cold climates. Using a pressure washer on a ladder or other elevated surface is dangerous due to the backward force of a pressure washing gun, which can easily throw a person off balance. Understand your work area and how water will affect the surface. Use appropriate safety harnesses when operating a pressure washer from a ladder, lift, or crane.
Blindness and other eye injuries can occur not only from being sprayed directly in the eye, but from foreign objects or chemicals flying through the air. The power of water at high pressure can send rocks, nails, glass, and other harmful debris hurtling through the air at damaging speeds. Chemicals and detergents can also splash up from the surface. Always wear shock resistant and splash resistant safety glasses or goggles when operating a pressure washer. In the event of a chemical-related eye injury, seek immediate medical help and be sure to take the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or label explaining the chemical’s properties for the physicians’ review.
High-pressure injection (HPI) occurs when water and other debris/chemical penetrates the skin and causes deep tissue damage. Serious infections are highly likely with HPI and may ultimately lead to permanent disability or amputation of the affected body parts. To lessen the risk of HPI, use wide angle or fan nozzles to disburse the pressure over a wider area. Solid stream nozzles can do more harm and should be avoided whenever possible. As with abrasions, wear protective clothing and never point the pressure washing wand at yourself or another person.
Special concerns for each specific type of machine should also be considered. With electric pressure washers (as with any electrical tool around water) there is the risk of electric shock. Use of gas-powered pressure washers can lead to asphyxiation by carbon monoxide inhalation when used without proper ventilation. Gas units are also loud and may result in hearing loss – hearing protection should be worn at all times. Misuse of hot-water and steam pressure washers may result in serious burns that could likely require medical attention. When operating any pressure washer be sure to read and understand its operation manual, paying special attention to all safety precautions.
Do not be one of the thousands of individuals each year that underestimate the power of a pressure washer and ultimately require hospitalization for their injuries. Give the machine the respect it deserves and use necessary safety measures for each particular situation. If you have any doubts about operating a machine, consider hiring a mobile pressure washing service to complete your project. A quick Internet search for “pressure washing in (your city)” will likely result in dozens of professional companies that would be happy to give you a free estimate.