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Hydraulic Systems Safety Basics 101

Broken valve at the factory hydraulic systemHydraulic systems typically operate under high pressure (often above 140 bar /  2,000 psi). Damaged hoses and hydraulic components, installation errors, or improper storage can result in damage that can lead to severe injuries due to hot, pressurized fluid and loose components all contributing to potentially costly system failures.  It’s therefore imperative to follow sensible  hydraulic safety precautions:

Maintain Proper Load Control

One must understand the basics of hydraulic systems and load control in order to maintain hydraulic safety.  It is thus important to know whether the system is operating below the correct maximum hydraulic pressure and fluid is flowing without any issues.  Correctly set pressure relief valves to ensure that Hydraulic systems can’t be overloaded.   It is essential that the relief valve pressure is set at or below the rated maximum continuous pressure of the pump.   It is also important to check that the valve is not set at a higher level than any of the other components in use and that only hose and pipe assemblies with a continuous working pressure rating higher than the relief valve setting are used.
 

Prevent System Overheating

Hydraulic systems constantly generate heat. When operating normally, heat is dissipated by different components.  Hydraulic fluid temperature is thus maintained within normal parameters.

When there are faulty actuators in use the generated heat may exceed the dissipation capacity, therefore not enough heat is released.  An overheated hydraulic pump can fail, resulting in the need for hydraulic pump replacement.  Also, when hydraulic oil is being overheated, it can put hydraulic hose safety at risk.  Hydraulic oil overheating symptoms include:
 
  • Thinning Fluid: As oil heats the viscosity reduces, in other words it gets thinner.  This increases rates of internal leakage and reduces the oil’s lubrication qualities..
  • Fluid Oxidation: Hydraulic fluid can oxidize and carbonise when subjected to very high temperatures or prolonged periods of operating at a high temperature.  It acquires a very distinctive burnt smell and should be replaced as the fluid will be providing a minimum of positive benefit to the system and its components.

Watch for Signs of Contamination

The majority of hydraulic failures, and many hydraulic accidents, are caused by air, water or other contamination.  Severe damage can result, but you can reduce the risk by identifying the symptoms, such as:
 
  • Whining Noises: The pump can pull dissolved air out of the oil (cavitation), damaging the pump and other components; if it is whining, have the system serviced immediately.
  • Knocking: A knocking sound is a sign of aeration, or when air enters the pump cavity from outside. Loose connections or inlet leaks often cause this to happen.
  • Milky Hydraulic Fluid: If the fluid is milky in appearance, this is a sign of water contamination,this can lead to blockages in filters and other components.
  • Blocked Filters: Check filter blockage indicators and take samples of the fluid,  checking for metal contamination which may indicate that there is a failing actuator within the system.

Address Leakage Immediately

Hydraulic fluid leaks are a common cause of hydraulic injuries.  A leak can originate from a hose or cylinder seal or other part that fails, reducing maximum working pressure capabilities. Reduced oil volume can induce increased system heat.  Overheating is a common trigger of hydraulic circuit problems, so act swiftly to resolve any potential leaks.
 

Avoid Human Error

Many hydraulic system mishaps are caused by mistakes.  These include improper installation, which can result in incorrectly fitted pipes or pump drives.  If incompatible parts are installed or the system isn’t maintained, or is used improperly, there’s a higher likelihood of hydraulic accidents.
 

Exercise Preventative Steps

The best way to try to prevent these problems is with:
 
  • Regular System Maintenance: Oil levels, hoses, hydraulic lines, and connections should be inspected daily, while common failure sources should be checked weekly or monthly.
  • Inspecting Systems Prior to Use: Look for evidence of leaks, wear, low oil, air in the system, or other issues that pose an immediate threat.
  • Ensuring Everyone Is Trained Correctly: All personnel who work with or near hydraulic equipment should be trained in all hydraulic safety measures.
  • Wearing the Right Safety Equipment: Hydraulic system operators should wear gloves, eye goggles, and other personal protective equipment.
  • Never Operate a System That Needs To Be Repaired: If a system is run with faulty components or a leak, the problem is likely to escalate and cause more damage.
  • Discontinue Use of a System When a Problem Occurs: Turn it off until the  component or hydraulic oil maintenance is performed, and someone has verified that the system is fully repaired.
By understanding the basics of pressure control and fluid flow, along with safe operating practices, you can avoid costly system failures and potential injuries.  When problems occur, if necessary, consult those with technical knowledge of the system in question. Always follow safety precautions in pressure and hydraulic testing and system operation.

White House Products, Ltd. specializes in all types of hydraulic gear pumps, piston pumps, and all of your hydraulic system parts and component needs.  We also have in-house testing facilities and manufacture replacement hose assemblies, as well as having a parts matching service. To learn more, please feel free to contact White House Products, Ltd. at +44 (0) 1475 742500.

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