Preventing losses: Hydraulic Fluids

Hydraulic fluids are commonly used to power and control equipment and machinery. Highly effective for mechanical power transmission, such liquids are susceptible to combustion and have been the cause of many large fires resulting in significant damage to building and equipment, in addition to extended interruption of operations.

What are hydraulic fluids and what are they used for?

Hydraulic fluids are used to power and control equipment and machinery components such as injection molding machines, extruders, rolling mills, presses, shears, and tilting mechanisms, among others. The most commonly used hydraulic fluids are petroleum-based oils.

These fluids are widely available and highly effective for mechanical power transmission, in addition to being non-corrosive and having good lubricating properties.

Understanding the hazards associated with hydraulic fluids

Such fires can only be extinguished by shutting off the flow of hydraulic fluids and can cause significant damage to building and equipment, in addition to extended interruption of operations.

Loss prevention measures when dealing with hydraulic fluids

  • Study the feasibility of using less flammable hydraulic fluids such as emulsions of oil-in-water and water-in-oil, water-glycol solutions or synthetic fluids.
  • Hydraulic equipment should be properly designed and installed to minimize the possibility of having a release of combustible hydraulic fluid or, in the event of oil release, to allow for prompt equipment shutdown.
    • Install hydraulically operated equipment in isolated areas to contain the release of hydraulic oil.

    • The pumping systems, the oil room or cellar should be segregated from other areas, including the area where hydraulically controlled equipment is installed. Separation should be provided by fire doors, ceilings, and walls.

    • Hydraulic systems should use metal piping, preferably without threaded connections. Flexible parts should be reinforced.

  • Appropriate fire protection measures should also be considered, especially if there is combustible construction and/or combustible occupancy in areas adjacent to hydraulically operated equipment.

    • Install automatic sprinkler protection above and beyond hydraulically actuated equipment.

    • Provide adequate manual fire protection through hose connections and fire extinguishers as required by the authorities.

Maintain an updated prevention and emergency response plan

  • Good housekeeping conditions should be maintained in areas where hydraulic equipment is installed. Attention should be given to the accumulation of combustible material and/or storage around hydraulically operated machinery.
  • Follow maintenance and testing guidelines as recommended by the original equipment manufacturer. This should include devices such as low oil level and low oil pressure sensors, auto shut-off interlock systems, manual shutdown pushbuttons.
  • Implement a periodic routine of inspections to check the operating condition of hydraulic systems. Special attention should be given to hoses and fittings. Any signs of wear or leakage should be corrected immediately.
  • Maintain tight control over potential ignition sources. Any hot work must be authorized and monitored through an appropriate hot work permit procedure.
  • The emergency response plan should include case-specific procedures for situations involving pressurized hydraulic fluid release. The procedures should as a minimum, address the following points:
    • Immediate notification of the fire department
    • Activation of the facility’s emergency procedures
    • Manual shutdown of hydraulically operated equipment involved in the emergency
    • Early identification of firefighting methods considering available equipment and building layout
    • Annual drills

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