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Mechanical IR Safety

There’s a lot written about electrical safety as it applies to infrared inspections.  The danger of electric shock and exposure to arc flash hazards must be considered when inspecting electrical apparatus with thermography. What isn’t discussed nearly as often are the hazards associated with mechanical infrared inspections, of which there are many.

Roller Bearing

Roller Bearing

 One area of concern is inspecting rotating equipment.  Whether, its bearings, motors, couplings or belt drive components, special care should be taken when working around rotating assets. Even devices driven by fractional horsepower motors generate an enormous amount of torque and can cause serious injury if your clothing, hair, body parts or even the strap on your camera get caught in them.

 In many facilities, couplings and belt drive components are guarded for safety purposes and as such may not be readily available for inspection.  If removal of a guard is necessary for inspection purposes, it’s advisable to first de-energize the rotating device in question, if possible. Another option is to utilize a good thermal mirror (polished aluminum for example) and place it below or at an angle where you can view the component’s reflection.  While temperature measurements will probably not be accurate, the qualitative image will tell you a great deal.

Thermography is also very useful for inspecting high temperature systems such as boilers, steam lines, and kilns.  Special care should be taken in high temperature areas for a number of reasons.  Thermal imaging cameras often have not-to-exceed operating temperatures, which can be easily encroached upon in high temperature areas.  Additionally, the surfaces being inspected could be of sufficient temperature to cause serious burns if bodily contact is made.

 Sometimes steam lines and even boiler skins are coated with a low emissivity material to reduce radiant heat loss, and the danger to personnel is that these surfaces can often feel like they aren’t very hot–even with your hand held as close as an inch away.  Once contact is made however, radiation isn’t the mode of heat transfer any longer and severe burns can occur. Also of concern in high temperature areas is heat exhaustion.  Exposure to high temperature areas should be limited to short periods of time with time in between to cool off and re-hydrate.

So please remember to be safe during mechanical inspections.  Attention to detail and following proper inspection procedures can help you stay safe while you Think Thermally®.


Think Thermally,
The Snell Group, a Fluke Thermal Imaging Blog content partner

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