The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) maintains a database of injuries and deaths associated with specific products. Called the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, it uses information reported to emergency rooms to assess the dark side of owning, say, a lawn mower or snowblower. For much outdoor gear, you can see how people get hurt in both innocent and cavalier ways. The same is true of pressure washers. But with this particular product type, the negligent causes are especially vexing.
Take, for instance, the young mother who ran out of baby wipes so used a pressure washer to wet a cloth diaper. Or the people who passed out from carbon-monoxide exposure through using a gas-powered pressure washer indoors. Or others who, horsing around, treated the pressure washer as a squirt gun. All this might remind you of the Darwin Awards. Nevertheless, some of these injuries could happen to anyone.
Many, according to the CPSC, occur because of where someone is using a pressure washer. A great number of people, for instance, fall off ladders or the roof itself. (Recoil from first turning on the spray is a common cause.) Some trip over the machine, maybe while working in enclosed spaces. Occasionally, someone gets burned from touching the hot engine. And frequently, it’s not the pressure washer itself but close proximity with the surface being cleaned—and soap or other cleaning agents splashing into the eyes or mouth.
What most happens, however, is that a user loses concentration or is unsuitably dressed (barefoot, for example), and the spray comes in contact with that person or someone nearby. Therein lies the greatest danger. While it’s easy to think of these as glorified garden hoses, pressure washers’ nozzles blast water at 40 to 80 times more power.
Here’s how to stay safe:
• Don’t point the wand directly at a surface, especially when you first press the trigger and if the spray is especially narrow (less than 15 degrees).
• Keep the pressured spray away from yourself (including your footwear), other people and pets. You want to spend time after you’re finished having a beer—not sitting in the ER waiting room, feeling like an idiot.
• Wear goggles, long pants and sturdy footwear. No, flip-flops don’t qualify.
• Once you’ve cleaned a surface before, you’ll know which nozzle (or which setting on a model with an adjustable nozzle) is right. Until then, use the widest spray angle that removes the stain. Begin cleaning with the nozzle about two feet away from the surface and then, if you need to, move closer.
The bottom line: Medical experts warn anyone hurt from a pressure washer to seek medical attention. If you’re hurt from falling, a burn or something in your eyes, nobody should need to tell you to see a doctor. But if the spray has caused even a slight break of the skin, there’s danger to underlying tissues that, if ignored, could require surgery and months of therapy later. Swallow your pride, pick up the phone and get it looked at.