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Staying safe under pressure

18 January 2019

Water jetting is a vital mainstay of the cleaning industry. David Kennedy, director of the Water Jetting Association, says the power of water must always be respected.

Water jetting technology has advanced rapidly, becoming more compact, and easier to use, without losing any of its power to remove stubborn materials. As such, it is most definitely a force for good, relied upon across many sectors to clean and de-foul pavements, machinery, ducting, pipework, vehicles, boats, and buildings.

A force of nature

As with all industrial equipment, businesses and operatives need to know clearly how to use water jetting systems safely. The starting point is to appreciate the power of water when it is under pressure. Even tap water is delivered under pressure. If a thumb is placed under a tap, a jet of water can be directed into a face at 40 pounds per square inch (PSI), which is enough to pierce an eye, with a potential to cause blindness.

A standard pressure washer, bought in a DIY store, can deliver a jet of water well in excess of 100 PSI, which is powerful enough to puncture skin. Commercial high-pressure water jetting systems, capable of 2,000 PSI or 140 Bar, are powerful enough to cause serious, even fatal injuries.

Some cleaning equipment delivers jets of water at high temperatures, adding yet another dimension to the risk faced by operatives and people nearby them. The answer, of course, is to fully assess the risks of each job and put in place operational and health and safety procedures to mitigate them.

Equipment & training

Water jetting, even at relatively low pressures, needs to be carried out while wearing the correct protective clothing.

For high pressure and ultra-high-pressure water jetting, there are now robotic systems that allow operatives to stand away from the equipment, and even control it remotely via CCTV systems. What is absolutely vital, is to ensure all members of water jetting teams have the appropriate training.

The Water Jetting Association (WJA) is a member organisation for water jetting contractors, manufacturers, hirers and training companies. It is also the UK’s leading provider of water jetting training. All training is delivered by WJA registered training provider companies using WJA approved instructors. All of our courses are accredited by City & Guilds of London Institute.

Safety is the primary concern for water jetting training. However, WJA training also covers the operational effectiveness of the water jetting process. Both issues are closely linked.

Cleaning contractors are often under pressure to carry out their tasks quickly. Some must operate in live environments, such as manufacturing sites with the need for continuous production. Water jetting teams may be remotely managed, with supervisors looking after different sites.

In these circumstances, safe working equates to an ability to communicate effectively, think on your feet and work effectively within an extended team, not just how to hold a jetting lance. These issues are clearly of great concern for water jetting operatives and those working around them.

The safe application of potentially life-threatening processes like water jetting is also, more than ever, critical to corporate survival.

Steeper sentencing

Sentencing guidelines, amended in 2016, have dramatically increased the levels of fines than can be imposed for health and safety breaches by a scale of 100-fold or more. Now operatives, even ones adversely affected by an untoward incident, are being prosecuted for failing to safeguard their own health and safety.

Feedback from our approved water jetting instructors suggests many such operatives are not aware of these risks. Due to this new, much tougher, regulatory regime, the WJA is urging cleaning companies undertaking water jetting to review their approach to health and safety. They need to ensure both they, and their operatives, are protected, both physically and legally.