Code Purple! Pressure is on to boost cleaning safety

Released: October 18, 2022

The Water Jetting Association is in the process of launching a new code of practice for pressure jetting. WJA President John Jones explains why it is badly needed.

Pressure washing has become so commonplace that many companies are not taking nearly enough precautions to protect their employees or colleagues in the work area. Technology has advanced rapidly, not least because pressure washing is such a useful practice: it is used daily at thousands of industrial sites across the UK to clean and degrease machines, clean floors and decontaminate production vessels.

The Water Jetting Association (WJA) is now introducing a new Code of Conduct for Pressure Washers to ensure operational and safety measures align with these advances in performance. The need is urgent. Many employees do not receive structured training, do not use the correct PPE and are unaware of the hazards they face. Injuries that can be caused by pressure washing have some specific characteristics that can make them particularly dangerous.

4th degree burns

Here’s a real example. An experienced pressure washer used a steam pressure washer to clean a frozen drain. As he pulled the hose from the pipe, he lost control of it and the jet of water cut through his boot and filled it with 1100 °C water at 207 bar (3,000 psi) at a speed of 440 miles per hour.

The incident lasted less than three seconds. But the agent sustained fourth-degree burns. After emergency surgery, he required many more surgeries as more efforts were made to rebuild his foot.

It’s just one of many pressure washing injuries. In another case, a shipyard worker slipped due to the unexpected force of a water jet, causing the nozzle to brush over his supervisor and injuring his thigh. Again, urgent and extensive hospital treatment was required. Easy access to pressure washers can give people a false sense of security. Those who run pressure washers at home in shorts and flip-flops are likely to adopt this attitude at work as well.

Color purple for security

The Water Jetting Association’s (WJA) new Code of Conduct for high-pressure jetting aims to challenge this. It sets out the steps needed to optimize the safe use of low-pressure waterjet equipment.

It also explains why these steps are important and what to do if something goes wrong. Established in 1980, the WJA is the UK trade association for the waterjet industry. We follow the international NACE standards, which divide water jetting into four areas of increasing pressure. High pressure cleaning is covered by the lowest tier – low pressure cleaning, with water pressures up to 207 bar or 3,000 psi. The WJA already has two codes of practice – the Blue Code for high pressure and ultra high pressure water jetting and the Red Code for water jetting in drain and sewer cleaning.

The new high pressure cleaning code – it will be the Purple Code – will support safe and productive water jetting in the lowest NACE pressure bands. It introduces a new standard of operation and health and safety framework for businesses that perform pressure cleaning and those who rely on its benefits. Duties include cleaning equipment, machinery and vehicles, removing mud from roads during highway repair and construction, and many other jobs that would be too tedious and costly with other cleaning systems.

In all cases, without a clear operational framework that a code of conduct provides, there is room for field teams to improvise and develop unsafe and suboptimal practices.

Water jet injuries

Safety is at the heart of the Pressure Washing Code of Conduct, which addresses the unique risks associated with waterjetting directly.

There are three main causes of serious injury or death from waterjet systems: being hit by an uncontrolled hose or nozzle; suffer a laceration that causes massive bleeding; or a fluid injection injury caused by the jet of water piercing the skin and penetrating underlying tissue.

What is not commonly understood is that a fluid injection injury can be caused by a jet of water at pressures as low as 100 psi (7 bar). So keep in mind that store-bought pressure washers can reach pressures of 2,500 psi (170 bar). There are two other major problems with fluid injection injuries. First, not only water can get into the body. The water jet can carry other particles and liquids, including dirt, bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemicals, oils and fats.

The jet can be so powerful that it penetrates a forearm, for example, hits the bone and then is redirected to the shoulder, causing catastrophic tissue damage and taking these pollutants with it.

Second, the injection site can be so small that the injured person, their colleagues, and then medical personnel often do not realize the severity of the injury. This can result in an injured person not receiving the urgent and comprehensive treatment they need, which can lead to long-term problems such as secondary infections. In the worst case, this can lead to amputation or death.

The WJA Code of Conduct for Pressure Washers addresses these risks and describes the appropriate steps needed to mitigate them.

Best medical advice

For example, it includes our new medical guidelines on water jetting. They were created following a study of waterjet injuries commissioned by the WJA and conducted by a team of leading NHS trauma doctors. Their study, published in the European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Medicine, confirmed the likelihood that many high-risk fluid-injection injuries are misdiagnosed by primary care physicians and emergency physicians.

The guidelines are in the form of an algorithm and provide clear, step-by-step information on how to respond to waterjet injuries from the moment they occur through post-emergency treatment therapies. Everyone, from the first aider to the paramedic, emergency doctor, family doctor and therapist, contributes to minimizing long-term effects. With this in mind, all WJA-qualified water ejectors carry a medical card advising emergency medical professionals to consider fluid injection injuries.

skills training

The new code of practice for pressure washing has sections dealing with training and competence, site and equipment setup and the different types of pressure washing pumps and equipment. This includes hot water systems which, as we have seen, pose additional risks. Also covered is equipment operation, use of PPE and management of the pressure washing team. There is also detailed risk assessment advice and a pre-launch checklist.

A key element is effective training. The WJA is the UK’s premier waterjet training provider. This includes a City & Guilds pressure washing course conducted by WJA-approved training providers and trainers. Lasting a minimum of five hours, it is designed to provide class-based and hands-on skills for safe and productive pressure washing.

Professional approach

The WJA would like to promote this professional and knowledge-based approach to high-pressure cleaning. We welcome pressure washer companies and organizations that perform pressure washers as WJA members. We also appreciate the lead they are taking in promoting safety in their industry.

This includes TPC Brickwork Cleaning in Hampshire. Company owner Kris Jasinksi commented: “We are a member of the WJA because we want to protect our employees and everyone around us when we are pressure washing.

“Participating in the WJA high-pressure cleaning training course has made a huge difference. I can see our security has gone up a notch. Advice from the WJA is central to our way of working and our business success. I have no doubt about that.”

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