Purchasing your own pressure washer can be exciting. However, DIY pressure washing comes with inherent risks most people aren’t aware of until after an accident has occurred.
Their affordability in recent years has led to an increasing number of property owners DIY pressure cleaning their driveways, garages, decks, patios, roofs, retaining walls, pool pavers, building exterior and sidings. This in turn has led to an increased number of injuries caused by contact with the skin, eye injuries from flying debris and falls from heights working up on ladder and slips from rooftops.
Other common problems that have occurred are where owners have broken their windows, stripped paint, flooded electrical distribution boards with water and damaged their roof using pressure washing. More than 95% of domestic pressure washers purchased are electrically powered, these pose a significant risk of electrocution if not operated properly.
Domestic pressure washers typically generate between 1,300psi and 2,100psi, commercial pressure washers generally between 3,000psi and 5,000psi.
As a guide only, skin can withstand around 100 psi, given that the lowest powered domestic pressure cleaner generates around 1,300psi it’s easy to see how a serious skin laceration, puncture and bruising may occur after contact with the water jet. More often than not, owners will operate a pressure washer barefoot, wearing thongs or slides, and almost never do they wear eye protection, hearing protection or gloves.
Debris fragments of brick, pebbles and stones, dirt, timber fragments and flaking paint are thrown into the air at high speed during cleaning which can result in serious eye injuries. This is not only a danger to the operator, but to onlookers and your pets in the vicinity. After an injury occurs the onset of infection is common and it’s rapid. The water carrying the debris is always contaminated with bacteria and any number of infections causing organisms so it’s important you seek medical attention as soon as possible after the injury occurs.
Another common incident that occurs as a result of the unpreparedness of ‘kickback’ from the pressure washer particularly when up a ladder attempting to clean gutters, eaves and roofs.
High pressure cleaning is a high risk task and the inherent dangers should not be underestimated. Regardless of the type of pressure cleaning being performed, it should never be performed without the appropriate safeguards in place.
Guide for managing risks from high pressure cleaning:
Before setting up and operating the pressure washer read the Operator Manual and only ever use the pressure washer as outlined in the manual.
Always use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before starting to perform the cleaning tasks.
- Long sleeve pants and shirts
- Eye and Face Protection
- Hearing Protection
- Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
- Steel Capped Gum Boots (rubber soled)
- Signage & Barricades (isolate work area)
- Fall Arrest System (at heights 2mtrs and above)
Head Protection (particularly when work at heights)
Some Of The Dangers Explained
1. Lacerations and Other Physical Injuries
Pressure washers use high pressure water jetting under tremendous force to clean hard surfaces such as concrete. The pressure generated by a pressure washer was never intended to come into contact with anything other than hard exterior surfaces and when they do, they can cause serious damage particularly especially where accidents occur.
Symptoms of water injection injuries can often be skin and muscle laceration and eye injuries. Other injuries that may be less obvious may be bruising. These bruises might seem insignificant however can result in serious infections nonetheless. Many people delay seeking treatment for pressure washing wounds increasing the risk of infections, these infections can lead to much more serious complications.
Untreated pressure washing wounds can even lead to amputation and permanent disability in some of the more serious cases.
Always seek medical attention without delay or call 000 (in Australia).
2. Flying Debris
Due to the enormous force generated by pressure washers it’s inevitable debris will be ejected of the surfaces being cleaned and become airborne. This debris includes however is not limited to dirt, pebbles and stones, concrete, paint chip, grease, organic materials such as algae, mould, moss, branches, wood chip, lichen, remnants of bat, fly fox and bird droppings, and much more.
Some of this debris has the potential to puncture your skin or eye and can cause very serious long-term injury and infection.
St. John Ambulance Australia: First Aid For Eye Injuries
Each year people using pressure washers end up with permanent eye disability usually caused by flying debris. Operators must always wear eye protection suitable for the task, of good fit and complying with AS/NZS1337:2010 (Series) and face shield complying with AS/NZS 1337.
Clear the area being cleaned and ensure there are no bystanders or pets anywhere nearby where the cleaning is being performed. If you have another person assisting you for example holding ladder while you’re climbing up onto a roof ensure that person is also wearing suitable PPE.
3. Electric Shock
If you’re using an electric powered pressure washer, you need to be especially cautious setting up and when operating the machine.
Only ever use a properly grounded general purpose outlet (GPO) and only ever purchase a pressure washer fitted with a 3-pin plung and not a 2-pin plug (see below).
Make sure your pressure washer stays grounded whilst it’s connected to power and during use. If you need the use of an extension cord, make sure the extension cord is rated for wet conditions and ensure you keep the pressure washer and extension cord away from standing water.
Always make sure you are wearing rubber soled shoes to provide insulation whenever you are handling the using the pressure washer and it’s connected to the power source.
Do not pressure wash water onto outdoor light fittings, power switches, power outlets, outdoor pumps, sensors, security camera systems, roller door motors, electrical distribution boards, storage batteries or anything connected to any electrical power source. If you’re not sure, simply do not clean it with the pressure washer.
4. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Aside from electric power pressure washer, there are fuel-powered (petrol) engine options available to the domestic market, that said, most homeowners tend to prefer electric powered pressure washers which are more readily available and significantly cheaper to purchase.
The obvious advantage of owning a fuel-powered pressure washer is the fact you do not need to be connected to an electrical power source eliminating many concerns outlined above. However, operating a fuel-powered pressure washer has its own disadvantages.
Exhaust fumes emitted from these pressure washers are extremely toxic, especially when used in areas with poor ventilation like inside a garage, shed, barn, tank or cellar. Operating a fuel-powered powered pressure washer in enclosed or confirmed spaces can very quickly and very easily lead to Carbon Monoxide Poising.
If you think you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, immediately contact 000 or the NSW Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26
Carbon Monoxide is a clear gas with no odour, not to be mistaken with exhaust fumes although it is carried in the exhaust fumes coming from the engine.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Include:
Extended exposures can cause:
- permanent brain injury
Do not use a fuel-powered pressure washer in a confined space or enclosed space. Always ensure the machine is outdoors when operating, run the length of the pressure hose into the confirmed space or enclosed area to pressure clean leaving the pressure washer outdoors with the exhaust facing away from the enclosed area and air intakes like windows, doors, air-conditioning unit, vents etc.
Again, do not pressure wash water onto outdoor light fittings, power switches, power outlets, outdoor pumps, sensors, security camera systems, roller door motors, electrical distribution boards, storage batteries or anything connected to any electrical power source. If you’re not sure, simply do not clean it with the pressure washer.
5. Damage to Your Property
It’s surprisingly easy to damage the exterior surfaces of your home, business and other property using a pressure washer.
Many DIY pressure cleaning tasks have ended with;
- Windows and Glass balustrades Breakages
- Window Trims, Door and Window Seals Tearing
- Fly Screen Mesh Torn
- Sandstone and Limestone Surfaces Etching
- Building Cladding Etching
- Tiles and Pavers Blown Off or Loosened
- Timber Decking Tearing
- Synthetic Turf Tearing
- Painted Surfaces Stripped
- Garage Roller Doors Striped and Roller Door Motors Water Ingress
- Vehicle Paint Damage, Engine Bay Electricals Compromised
- Roofing, Eaves and Gutters Leaking
- Garden and Lawns Water Logged and Contaminated
Domestic pressure washers are supplied with a preset pressure output meaning the pressure cannot be lowered when cleaning fragile surfaces.
Commercial pressure washers have the ability to adjust the pressure output and flowrate enabling the professional operator to adjust the pressure accordingly and avoid damaging fragile.
6. Falling From Heights
When pressure washing at heights greater than 2 meters the use of a suitable certified Fall Arrest System is imperative and its importance cannot be overstated.
It’s also recommended you have someone watching over you (a spotter) who may be able to render assistance or call for help in the event you have a fall or slip. This is particularly important when working on a wet slippery surface such as a roof covered in algae and moss, and when working from a ladder cleaning eaves and the exterior surface of your gutters.
If you are in doubt about your ability, are not sure as to where or not you have the capacity to climb onto your roof safely, or have any doubt or concerns you should consider using a local professional pressure cleaner to perform the cleaning tasks required.
Professional pressure cleaners glean a lot of knowledge, skill and experience from past work. Their service is enhanced with the years of experience that they accumulate and this is not something you can get watching YouTube videos.
A professional will thoroughly examine the areas that require cleaning before the work is to commence, this information gathering is done to determine the safest and most effective approach to performing the pressure cleaning tasks.
Pressure washing can be performed by homeowners and business owners safely provided the proper precautions are taken. Taking the time to thoroughly access the potential hazards is crucial to ensure your safety and the safety of the people and pets around you. Failure to do so can result in a visit to the emergency room or call to 000 for assistance like thousands of other people every year.
NOTE: Exercise extreme caution when operating a pressure washer, read the Operation Manual and Chemical Labels to help minimise the risk of injury and infections. Wear appropriate PPE and RPE, when working from a ladder or on a rooftop ensure you have someone assisting you and watching over you the whole time, making sure they too are wearing PPE and RPE and are at a safe distance.