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Keven Moore: A pressure washer can be a useful tool, but users should be aware of its hazards


A pressure washer is a power tool that sprays water at high pressures to remove loose paint, mold, algae, grime, dust, mud, chewing gum and dirt from surfaces and objects like buildings, fences, masonry, vehicles, concrete or asphalt surfaces such as driveways or patios.

Courtesy of the Home Depot website

The pressure washer was invented back in the late 1920s, and its use was slow to grow, but today there is an entire industry that provides these cleaning services.

The proliferation of ‘Do-It-Yourself’ home renovation and improvement TV shows over the last decade has created a country of consumers eager to tackle ‘DIY’ projects. As a result, today you can purchase a pressure washer for about $250 and you will find them in about 15 percent of American home garages and workshops.

Despite these benefits, they can cause serious injury—and most consumers just don’t know how serious some of those injuries can be. It’s been demonstrated that a pressure washer can cut a carrot in half and dig a deep groove into a wooden board.

A pressure washer’s powerful spray is hazardous when misdirected, it’s strong enough to damage or lacerate the skin in an instant. Lacerations are the most common injury, followed by bruises, punctures, infections and eye injuries.

How do I know this? Well, let’s just say that a certain safety professional recently experienced a minor injury while pressure washing his pop-up camper. He had taken the precautions to wear eye protection like any good safety instructor would do as he set out to clean his pop-up camper to get it ready to sale heading into Memorial Day weekend.

While using one hand to lift the rolled up awning to clean the dirt and grime that had accumulated underneath it, he was using the sprayer with the other hand when he inadvertently sprayed his wrist which was just 18 inches away from the nozzle.

“A certain professional’s” injury incurred while using a pressure washer (provided).

The incident lasted less than a ¼ of a second, but he successfully had pressure washed the skin right off his wrist, turning the wound immediately white, similar to an electrical burn and it leaving a small pocket of water underneath the skin. As the color slowly began to return to normal it began to bleed and I’d like to be able to end the story that he just rubbed some dirt on it continued on with his task.

However, he quickly recalled hearing of a couple of incidents where workers have died of a heart attack from an air embolism when air bubble had entered a vein after accidentally making contact with a high pressurized air hose. So he decided to seek the help of his wife who happened to be a registered nurse who was sunbathing back by the backyard pool, to have her search the internet to determine if he was in any danger.

Together they discovered that he wasn’t in any immediate lie threatening danger and nor did he have to spend the night in the local emergency room but he needed to clean it appropriately and keep a close eye on his injury for infection. However his pride was a bit bruised and he has since decided to go on a mission to inform the public of the dangers of pressure washers because after all every accident or injury is a lesson to be learned.

A pressure washer is a very strong cleaning tool that sprays water at SUPER high pressure. It can cause serious wounds, deep lacerations if you accidentally point it at yourself or others. The wound might not appear bad, but it could potentially become infected.

Per a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fact sheet: “Wounds that appear minor can cause a person to delay treatment, increasing the risk for infection, disability or amputation.” Others have actually deep lacerations, broken fingers and toes and have had to receive plastic surgery to repair damaged skin.

Other pressure washer risks, according to the CDC, include carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock, falls, slip trip and falls and also the possibility that the washer might hit small objects that can turn into dangerous projectiles.

To underscore the hazard, a garden hose alone delivers water pressure at about 50 pounds per square inch, pressure washers can generate 1,500 to 4,000 psi. That’s a lot of power and the general public is usually oblivious to this hazard.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 6,057 people in 2014 alone went to an emergency room with injuries related to pressure washer use. And 14 percent of those ER visits led to additional hospitalization.

In an article in the Consumer Report, Howard Mell, M.D., a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians says, “the extreme danger with pressure washers is that even with what seems a very minimal skin break, the fluid can get deep into the tissue and spread out and cause bacterial infection.”

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

He recalls a patient who was hit in the calf, producing a laceration less than 2 inches across. But internally, there was an infection to the muscle. It took a long operation and months of physical therapy for the patient to heal.

Pressure washers are sold with either a set of interchangeable nozzles or an adjustable wand tip, both of which usually allow users to vary the flow of water from zero degrees, the finest, to about 65 degrees depending on the task.

They’re inherently dangerous no matter which spray tip or setting you’re using. But the unnecessary risk of using a zero-degree nozzle—which concentrates the tool’s full pressure into a single, pinpoint blast—outweighs the utility because the spray can cause severe damage in a short amount of time. And higher-degree nozzles can get the job done.

Consumers and workers can minimize the possibility of injury from using a pressure washer by taking these precautions:

*Read the operators manual from front to back.
*Always wear protective clothing, including long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, leather gloves goggles or splash resistant safety glasses.
*Never wear flip flops or open toes shoes, instead wear enclosed leather/rubber boots or shoes.
*Never point the nozzle of a pressure washer at anything you don’t intend to spray.
*Don’t depress the trigger until you have pointed the nozzle at the thing you want to spray.
*When using an electrically-powered pressure washer, make sure that the power cord and an extension cord are not in standing water and always use a GFCI cord.
*Avoid using the red tip pinpoint jet nozzle solid stream nozzles. Use a wide-angle or fan nozzle instead.
*Avoid using near any electrical wiring.
*Never use a gas pressure washer in an enclosed space.

While cleaning be aware of your surroundings.

Be aware of playing children, pets, passing cars, slippery surfaces, electrical wires, and power lines. Avoid ladders and working at height. Nothing is more dangerous than working at height when pressure washing. A fall from 3-feet can be fatal if you fall the wrong way and hit your head.

If possible use an extension wand and keep your feet planted firmly on the ground.

If you have to operate a pressure washer on a ladder, lift, or scaffold, use a safety harness.

Workers who have suffered an injury while using a pressure washer should seek medical attention as soon as possible. They may also want to speak with an attorney about getting workers’ compensation benefits.

Despite the fact that the unnamed safety professional referenced in this article pride may have been bruised, he is delighted to have been able to sacrifice his health and safety to have learned this valuable lesson so that he can share his story with others so that they can lead a safe and injury free prosperous life. His wife on the other hand, still claims to be the real safety professional in the family, as he was recently demoted to deputy safety manager in the family.

Be Safe My Friends

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.


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