Is safety a technological given and the people are the problem?

Time and again we hear or read about accidents with breathing-air compressors. Exploding pressure vessels, burning compressors, bursting hoses and the like. Often there is good reason why the causes for such accidents are not being made public officially.
In order to help prevent accidents, we now want to take these examples to explain the accident occurrence and its background.

Safety first

If you look at the areas of application for our compressors, one fact quickly becomes obvious:
Only very rarely the machinery is the problem, usually the problem is the person standing in front of it.
In 97% of the cases the causes of the accident are incorrect operation and inappropriate handling.
Because we put such high requirements on our products and trainings for our customers, so far there has obviously been no accident that our products were responsible for.
(In 2019 IDE will celebrate its 30th company anniversary!)

Established accident causes and their roots

  • High-pressure line lashing through a room, serious personal injury.
    Cause: A 10 mm stainless steel high-pressure line was torn out of its threaded joint. In the initial assembly the cutting rings had not been pre-assembled according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In addition, the line was not properly mounted to the wall.
  • Acoustic trauma deafness, permanently impaired hearing and a deep head wound, caused by a burst hose.
    Cause: The hose was an expensive, high-strength stainless steel corrugated hose connected to a storage tank with oxygen for Nitrox filling. The operator had made his own gas mixer with absolutely inadequate, cheap ball valves.
    Opening one of these valves caused a power shot that within the fraction of a second heated the oxygen to over 1000 °C / 1800 °F, thus destroyed the hose and let the stainless steel braid melt.
  • Burst filter cartridge, acoustic trauma deafness in several persons, injuries by flying aluminum parts.
    Cause: 40 % Nitrox was compressed in a three-stage high-pressure compressor. It is prohibited to compress Nitrox in three-stage compressors. During compression the gas mix spontaneously ignited in the activated charcoal in the filter cartridge, thus melting the aluminum cartridge. The filter cartridge was heated far above the technically tolerable temperature and consequently burst.
  • Compressor fire – causing nearby storage tanks to burst.
    Complete destruction of the scuba school, complete loss of furniture, equipment and inventory in the adjacent dive shop, considerable damage to the building.
    Cause: Overheating of the complete facilities due to insufficient ventilation and lack of oil in the compressor caused spontaneous ignition of the machinery. The compressor fire heated the nearby storage tanks so much that one of them exploded and in a chain reaction took another one with it.

These are but a few examples and we could write hundreds of pages more about this issue. The result is: only in extremely rare cases an accident is caused by faulty machinery. As mentioned above, almost all accidents can be put down to incorrect operation and inappropriate handling – as above examples clearly illustrate. In most cases this happens in ignorance of the hazards the product or the medium in use may pose.

In our operators’ trainings IDE Kompressor Manufaktur have been endeavoring for years to teach comprehensive knowledge and skills to interested operators of breathing-air compressors, in particular from scuba diving.
But operators’ trainings, as well as the basic technology trainings, in which we do less practical work on these systems, but have an in depth look at the physics and the safety of our systems, are not too popular. Most people register for the technology professional course, where they can tinker to the top of their bent.
Incomprehensible but true – we sometimes must remind participants that such courses do not substitute for three years apprenticeship and the years of experience as a technician that are needed to truly know these systems and to do appropriate and professional maintenance and repairs without product liability risk.
After 30 years in the compressor industry we still haven’t found out why it is particularly scuba divers who tinker with everything that’s good, expensive and critical for the life and health of their dive buddies.