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Insidious Hydraulic-Injection Injuries

Being on the hook to prepare an article about “hydraulics” for an upcoming issue, I asked one of the magazine’s advertisers for suggestions about topics that might be interesting and relevant to our readers. The company graciously responded, and among the suggestions was the possibility of addressing the dangers and precautions to be observed when working on high-pressure hydraulic systems.

Intrigued by the topic, I did a bit of initial research just to see what kind of information an article of this sort might include. I soon discovered that among the most dangerous aspects of working on high-pressure hydraulic systems is the possibility of the technician’s hand or forearm being penetrated by a stream of hydraulic fluid. It’s not a common occurrence, fortunately, but if you’re a technician who works on hydraulic systems, please be aware of the danger. Whether the magazine does an article on the subject or not, we felt it important to immediately pass along the basics of dealing with this insidious form of injury.

Briefly, we learned that this type of injury is often initially ignored, because it looks like a minor irritation. Even if the injury is treated, it might just be bandaged with an ointment. Apparently, not many emergency-room caregivers are aware that the injection of hydraulic fluid (or any sort of toxic paint or solvent) can cause rapid and devastating deterioration of tissue.

We haven’t gotten too far into researching the details, but apparently, as we understand the subject at present, this type of injury is so dangerous, not only because of the potential toxicity involved, but also because of the potential for it to cause compartment syndrome, a condition in which muscles affected by the injected fluid swell within a “compartment” of protective tissue that doesn’t expand. The result is that blood flow to the extremity (hand or forearm) is restricted and the tissue rapidly deteriorates.

At this point, about all we can say is that if ever you do sustain an injury caused by a stream of hydraulic fluid, go to the hospital immediately. Tell the physician what’s happened, and if the physician seems unsure about treatment, inform those present about the possible dangers and—as some research we encountered stated—ask that a surgeon specializing in the hand be consulted.

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