High-Pressure Washer Safety

Date: March 28, 2023

Jessica Slattery, Risk Control Consultant

The Dangers of Pressure Washing and How to Stay Safe

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2014, an estimated 6,057 people went to the emergency room with injuries related to pressure washer use, and 14% of those ER visits led to additional hospitalization. High-pressure washer injuries are not to be underestimated.


A high-pressure washer machine can cause cuts, bruises, or even more severe injuries if not used correctly. Pressure washer injuries can be extremely dangerous because even a superficial skin laceration can allow contaminated fluid to get deep into the tissue and cause infection. Wounds that seem insignificant may delay a person from seeking treatment and increase the risk of infection, disability, or amputation.

One example of this that we've seen is a young and inexperienced worker who was using a high-pressure (4000 psi) water sprayer to remove mud off sidewalks and streets after heavy rainfall. This was his first time performing the task. He was wearing rubber boots provided by his employer. While standing in the muddy area, he ran the high-pressure water over his foot. The spray penetrated the rubber boot and skin, injecting dirty water deep into skin tissues and exposing the tendons in his foot.

Without treatment, the emergency room physician stated that he may have lost his foot or died due to infection. The worker was admitted to the hospital and endured three surgeries, including skin grafts. After a month of hospitalization and six months of physical therapy, the worker is expected to return to work with permanent impairment.

Safety Recommendations

To help avoid pressure washing incidents, consider the following safety recommendations.

  • Read the user manual. Every machine is different, and you need to know the correct way to use it. Review warning labels and learn how to operate all controls. Operators should know how to stop the machine quickly in case of a problem.
  • Be thoroughly trained before operating, and remember to always keep the pressure washer wand pointed away from yourself and others.
  • Take care not to touch hot surfaces such as mufflers and burner exhaust stacks. Even the wand and hose will become hot when using a hot water pressure washer.
  • Wear personal protective equipment such as goggles, a face shield, gloves, ear protection, and closed-toe shoes. Your feet, hands, and face are at high risk of being injured by flying debris and powerful spray, but easy to protect with the proper equipment.
  • Always grip the trigger gun and wand with both hands and direct the nozzle toward what you are cleaning before pulling the trigger as it will kick back from built-up pressure.
  • When changing nozzles, make sure the safety mechanism is engaged or the power washer is off. Understand the nozzle color codes for proper spray angles. The following are common color codes and their corresponding angles and flow rates (Note - these color codes may vary depending on the manufacturer):
    • Red: 0 degrees, highly concentrated and powerful stream
    • Yellow: 15 degrees, high pressure, and narrow stream
    • Green: 25 degrees, medium pressure, and wider stream
    • White: 40 degrees, low pressure, and wide fan-shaped stream
    • Black: low pressure and is used for applying soap or detergent.
  • Avoid ladders and working at an elevated height. The kickback from the sprayer can push you off the ladder. Extension wands provide additional height and help avoid the risk of falling.
  • Do not spray electrical outlets or wiring.

Employee safety should always be the top priority. Contact your Risk Control Consultant for more jobsite safety tips. To find a BITCO agent near you, click the button below. We are here for you!

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For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.

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