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Enhancing safety through efficient maintenance

27 July 2015

Compressed air is often regarded as the fourth utility, yet, despite being a pivotal component of many manufacturing and industrial processes, its safe use can sometimes be overlooked. Here, Chris Dee, executive director of the British Compressed Air Society discusses the ways in which compressed air systems can be managed and maintained to ensure greater safety.

Just like other items of industrial equipment, the compressor needs to be installed and maintained correctly to ensure it operates safely. If a system isn’t properly and regularly maintained it could end up posing a danger, and in extreme cases, could catch fire or explode. 

To ensure a compressed air system is safe, careful management needs to be applied to both its servicing and auditing.

Safety in servicing

There is continuing concern that despite the risks, there are currently no formal accreditation schemes for designing, installing and maintaining compressed air systems.


End-users could well be receiving poor advice and safety could be compromised. 

Every compressed air system, virtually without exception, should have a Written Scheme of Examination in place, and the system should be regularly inspected in accordance with that scheme.

Written Schemes of Examination are legal requirements under the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000. The document contains a wide range of information, including the parts of the system that need to be examined, the nature of the examination required, the preparatory work needed and the maximum interval allowed between examinations.

The Written Scheme of Examination has been in place for more than 14 years and carries a potential fine if you are caught without one. However, the worry is that many businesses running compressed air systems either ignore this or are simply not aware of it. 

The British Compressed Air Society offers courses for those involved in the installation and maintenance of compressed air systems. However, these are voluntary, and so there is a real need to introduce recognised training programmes and an official accreditation scheme for service engineers working on compressed air systems, as well as for designers and installers that can help to make the compressed air system safer.

Improving safety through energy audits

It is advisable to have regular energy audits taken out on all aspects of the compressed air system as incorrectly specified equipment, leaks, poorly sized pipework, long distance, excessive bends, fittings and improper use can all pose health and safety risks.

For some years responsible compressed air equipment manufacturers and suppliers have been offering energy audits as part of their service offering, however, standardised energy audits have only recently been implemented.

On the 19th March 2015, the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) made EN ISO 11011, the International Standard for compressed air efficiency, an approved European Standard.  

Prior to EN ISO 11011, individual manufacturers and suppliers had to decide for themselves how to measure compressor energy consumption, and what recommendations to make to their customers. With the introduction of EN ISO 11011, companies can now offer universal safety advice alongside carrying out assessment and auditing procedures on a level playing field. Like-for-like energy audits can only benefit the end-user and make it easier for them to decide what action to take to increase their safety levels. 

BCAS would strongly encourage end-users to see the value in assessing their compressed air usage within a standardised framework. It’s likely that many businesses don’t know how much compressed air they use, how much it costs them or how safe their system is. EN ISO 11011 should deliver sustainable results for the businesses that take it on board, saving energy and ultimately making the system safer.

Both the Written Scheme of Examination and EN ISO 11011 are in place to protect end-users of compressed air. Legislation offers a universal safety measure that can be used across the industry. However, there is much more to be done.