Hydraulics industry under pressure for change

Casey said that after recently attending a hydraulics conference in Sydney he was interested to learn of the surprising amount of variation in the levels of required training, both within the hydraulics industry and in comparison to other trades, such as electricians or plumbers. He said this was surprising, given the risks of severe injury caused by hot oil operating under high pressure.“A pressure injection injury is basically a medical emergency, particularly if it is a mineral oil, because it eats away at the tissue,” Casey told CIN. He said a hydraulics failure could also cause burns, eye injuries and the uncontrolled movement of supported loads.Casey said an example of the latter would be where a mechanic starts working on a scissor lift without putting in the mechanical supports, and releases something that causes the load to come down.“I suppose the potential is infinite in terms of how hydraulic accidents and incidents might unfold,” he said. “In Australia, electricians have to be licensed to work on high-voltage electrical circuits, and you could mount an argument that [a system like] that would be beneficial in the hydraulics business, particularly if you modifying, reworking or otherwise changing a hydraulics system of some kind. “Hydraulic equipment is getting more complex and complicated. So it’s becoming harder for companies that employ people who work on hydraulics to keep up,” Casey told CIN.He said part of the reason why the hydraulics industry has lagged behind some of the other trades in terms of training is that it is quite a fragmented industry.“I think that because we don’t have a strong professional body, there’s not much will to either self-regulate or to look to government to do the job for them.“In Western Australia, we have a branch of the Fluid Power Society, which is very interested in training, and they do what they can with the resources they’ve got to get hydraulics recognised as an area of specialisation,” he said.But Casey said the safety issues still come back to the fragmentation of the industry and a lack of collective wills, which has led to pockets of the industry regulating themselves and, in some cases, to very good effect. He said that before a new recruit can begin working for Parker Hannifin’s Hose Doctors (which operates under the Enzed brand throughout Australia and New Zealand), he or she must attend a two-week training program that includes 80 contact hours plus homework. He said this commitment to rigorous training was reassuring for those who from time to time find themselves working close to an operating hydraulic system. “I know any time I find myself working near a large diameter, multi-spiral hose pressurised to 6000psi, I hope the guy who fabricated it knew what the heck he was doing,” he said.But Casey said that in the week following the conference he had a meeting with a lecturer at a local vocational college. “He was in the process of developing a hydraulics training module for a group of apprentices and had chosen industrial hydraulic control as the class text. “During our conversation it was revealed that the basic hydraulics program he was preparing involved 36 hours of contact time. “I’m a big advocate of continuous learning and the pursuit of knowledge, but I found myself thinking this is less than half the amount of training a Parker Hose Doctor gets – in just one specialised area. “Without any further education in hydraulics, when these apprentices become tradesman, there’s nothing preventing them from working on any type of hydraulic equipment,” Casey said.

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