6 Common Industrial Fan Safety Hazards

Be Aware of the Hazards with Industrial Fans

Here at Moffitt we often receive questions about staying safe around industrial fans. Many are concerned with protecting workers from contacting rotating blades on our fan equipment and are interested in purchasing guards or other protection. This is of course a very real danger, but there are also other industrial fan safety hazards associated with working with industrial fan equipment. As safety is always our first priority, we thought we’d take a minute to focus on the major hazards associated with fans.

For6 Common Industrial Fan Safety Hazards over 50 years Moffitt has sold, manufactured, and installed multiple types of fans. We sell everything from small axial units to very large hooded supply/exhaust units to move large volumes of air.

Every fan has at least two things in common:

  1. A rotating driven component (Fan)
  2. A rotating driver component (Motor)

Often there will also be belts and sheaves (pulleys) to connect the two and sometimes the fan will be direct-driven and no belts are required. Despite these variations, those are the two things that every fan has in common. Additionally, every fan has the same specific industrial fan safety hazards. They are as follows:

  1. Contact with rotating blades – An operating fan poses a significant risk of injury by contact with the propeller, and must be treated with vigilance and care. Indirect contact can also occur with blowing dust/dirt. This is particularly hazardous to eyes and respiratory system.
    1. Lock out and tag out the unit when working on fan equipment. Test it by operating the starter to ensure the unit is de-energized. Do this before removing any guards.
    2. Wind blowing through the fan housing can cause the propeller to rotate (windmill), sometimes at high speed. A large propeller has significant mass and can knock you off your feet. Make sure you maintain a safe proximity from the fan wheel and always be sure to secure the propeller before entering the fan housing area.
  2. Pinch points in belts/sheaves – Even if the fan wheel is rotating slowly, without power, a significant mechanical advantage is developed at the sheaves. This is especially true with large fans. A finger caught between the sheave and the rotating belt could result in serious injury or digit loss.
  3. Fan Blade/component failure during initial start up – Fan failure on startup is generally a rare event, but sometimes it happens. Fans travel long distances on flatbed trailers. They encounter vibration, bumps, and weather. It is not uncommon to find loose components on arrival at the job site so thorough inspection of each fan on arrival is important. Be sure to.
    1. Look for loose/missing components and damage
    2. Correct all discrepancies before starting the fan.
    3. Listen for any unusual noises, squeaks, squeals, hum, or rubbing.
    4. Make sure the blade does not contact any part of the spinning area. This is cause for immediate unit rejection. Correct this problem immediately as running in this condition will result in very quick blade failure.
    5. Look for blade wobble or tracking problems. “Bump” each fan before committing to a full power run. “Bump” means applying a short burst of power to start the fan wheel rotating, then immediately de-energizing the unit.
  4. 6 Common Industrial Fan Safety Hazards Roof Exhaust FanMaterial/debris entering fan – Certain fans are more susceptible to the dangers of an object entering the propeller path, but it can happen to any type of fan. Working over an operating upblast roof exhauster with hand tools is a recipe for disaster. Fan wheels will fail this when material contacts blades and unfortunately this type of material is everywhere. For instance, fans often ship with dunnage inside to secure components. Remove dunnage before start-up to avoid problems later.
    1. Spinning fans are very powerful. A full brim phenolic hard can be reduced to fibers if inadvertently left in the fan housing and the unit is energized.
  5. Contact with hot motor surface – Don’t forget that even when de-energized and locked out, fan motors have significant mass. They will retain heat for extended periods. 220 degree F and higher temperatures are possible. Let the unit have a cool down period before starting work.
  6. Guards – Guards keep workers from directly experiencing the items above. However, even a guard can become an industrial fan safety hazard.
    1. Guards should be in good shape and properly secured to the fan housing. Use the correct number of sheet metal screws. If unsecured, guards can fall into the fan.
    2. Be careful when removing guards. They tend to be large and not very rigid.  This can result in loss of balance when working on elevated surfaces and ladders.
    3. Guards often contain sharp edges from expanded metal and other screen materials.  Wear gloves when handling screens.
    4. The following is an excerpt from OHSA 1910.212 regarding the required use of guards:

1910.212(a)(3)(ii) The point of operation of machines whose operation exposes an employee to injury, shall be guarded. The guarding device shall be in conformity with any appropriate standards, therefore, or, in the absence of applicable specific standards, shall be so designed and constructed as to prevent the operator from having any part of his body in the danger zone during the operating cycle.

1910.212(a)(5) Exposure of blades. When the periphery of the blades of a fan is less than seven (7) feet above the floor or working level, the blades shall be guarded. The guard shall have openings no larger than one-half (1/2) inch. As you can see, OSHA regulations stipulate that a ½” guard is required to be used on a fan, unless it is located seven feet or greater above the work floor/level, and it does not expose an employee to injury. Since it is not possible to anticipate if direct exposure to fans via lifts, ladders, etc. will occur, it is good practice to include guards with each and every fan.

6 Common Industrial Fan Safety Hazards

In conclusion, knowing the rules of fan guards is an important first step to ensuring workplace safety. A site inspection is a great first step to ensuring that your fans are safe and in proper working order

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