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Hot water and steam are often used to clean walls, floors and equipment in many industries and operations. A variety of dangers are associated with hot water or steam cleaning, however, all of which should be considered in order to avoid personal injury.
Burns -- Water temperatures between 180º and 212º F clean most effectively. Unfortunately, water can scald a person at temperatures as low as 120º F. To avoid increasing your risk of injury in the case of a mishap, set your water temperature only as high as necessary to accomplish the job. Many cleaning tasks can be successful with temperatures less than 120º F. At this level you probably do not need to wear personal protective equipment, except to keep yourself dry. When working with soot, light oils, grease, and sticky surfaces, water temperatures between 120º and 180º F may be required. In these cases, you should wear a face shield, rubber gloves and boots, plus an apron long enough to cover the tops of the boots. Additionally, you should wear your boots inside your pant legs, so that hot water cannot flow into your boots.
High Pressures -- Use only high pressure armored or wire-reinforced steam hoses, to eliminate the possibility of bursting under high pressure. There is a good chance you will be sprayed if a hose breaks, or you or a co-worker could be struck by a whipping hose. Never use a cold water hose for hot water or steam washer cleaning.
Hose Maintenance -- Always inspect your hoses before use. If your hose is damaged, replace it. Unless you have the proper equipment, it is unlikely you can repair a hose so that it is as strong as it was before it broke. Make sure all hose connections are tight and proper. Leaks and failures are very dangerous. If a hose does become kinked, untwist it to remove the kinks. When you are done with the cleaning job, roll or coil the hose and put it away. Never leave it where it could be run over or otherwise damaged.
Uncontrolled Hose - Be cautious around a steam hose that has been allowed to cool. Water may have condensed inside the hose and could be released when the valve is opened. This can cause the hose and nozzle to whip violently.
Electric Shock - Everyone knows that water and electricity do not mix, so shut off all electrical power within the work area while cleaning with water or steam. Cover electrical fixtures. Never spray directly at any electrical equipment. Do not turn the power back on until you are sure everything is absolutely dry.
Cleaners -- Be aware of the potential danger in detergents and alkaline cleaning materials. Many cleaners have a corrosive action upon all body tissues, especially the eyes. Even contact with dilute solutions can cause injury. When mixing, add the alkaline cleaners to the water gradually. Dumping a large quantity in all at once could result in an explosion. Prevent contact with your skin and avoid breathing the mists and powders. Always wear your personal protective equipment, including respirators and eye protection. Also be sure a wash station is nearby in case of a splash.
Poor Visibility -- Probably the most common complaint when doing this work is lack of good visibility, due to the steam cloud. Operators should direct the steam away from themselves. Plan the work so you do not have to walk into a vapor cloud, where you might trip or slip and fall. If you become enveloped in a cloud, stop work, wait for it to dissipate and warn other workers away. Unless the work area is very confined, you should soon have a clear field of vision.
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