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Air Contamination

When working in the vicinity of an operating pile hammer, some consideration should be given to the possibility of air contamination.

Almost without exception, the exhaust of a hammer will contain contaminants. The most common of these are traces of lubricant emitted in the form of oil droplets or vapor. Two hazards are associated with this emission. First, the contaminant may be harmful to the respiratory system and second, it may cause damage to material that it contacts if the contamination is very great. Consequently, one should not get into the exhaust stream, and steps should be taken to avoid letting the exhaust spray get onto surrounding buildings, vehicles, etc.

Since the exhaust is merely the release of air or steam that is used to drive the hammer, any contaminants associated with the generating of compressed air or steam and transporting it to the hammer may be present in the exhaust. This system should be checked,maintained,and cleaned to prevent such contamination. The system includes the air compressor or steam boiler and the hoses running to the hammer.

Possibly the least likely source of air contamination is the cushion material that is used beneath the ram point. Because of the tremendous energy that must be transmitted by this material, it tends to fragment, decompose and sometimes burn. For most materials, this should not be a significant problem, but there are exceptions. One material that is commonly used by cushion manufacturers contains asbestos. When the material decomposes in use, the asbestos fibers are free to become airborne. If the asbestos fibers are inhaled, permanent lung damage known as asbestosis may occur. The material should be inspected and if there is any suspicion that the asbestos or the fibers are becoming airborne, an approved filter mask should be worn by all workmen in proximity of the material. WARNING: Use in “confined spaces” may be hazardous to health. Refer to O.S.H.A. Standards 1910.1000, Air Contaminants, and 1910.134, Respiratory Protection.

For each cushion material, lubricant, or other fluid used, the health hazards should be identified by the user and appropriate precautions should be taken. If the hazards are not readily identifiable, the user should consult with the manufacturer of the material or with a certified Industrial Hygienist.

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