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Combustible Dust Poses a Serious Threat

Post written by: Nikelle Elfvin

shutterstock_272730668Combustible dust is comprised of fine particles that can stay suspended in air and under the right conditions will cause an explosion.  Combustible dusts can be found in many manufacturing situations and can occur from a variety of different particles, including aluminum, wood, pharmaceuticals and grain.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that led to the deaths of 119 workers, injured 718, and extensively damaged numerous industrial facilities. On February 7, 2008, a sugar dust explosion and subsequent fire at a sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, caused 14 deaths and left many other workers seriously injured with severe burns.

In order to keep your employees safe there are key steps you can take that will reduce the likelihood of a disaster.

  • Understand the hazards of the products that you are using in your facility.  Review Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all products and ensure that employees know the hazards of each product.  Do not assume that a product is not hazardous just because it is not a liquid or gas.
  • Develop and implement a maintenance schedule that ensures all bearings on conveyors and other equipment are greased to prevent overheating.
  • Make housekeeping a priority.  Don’t forget to clean fan blades used in ventilation systems and in motors and a build up of dust on the blades can cause them to become unbalanced, which could result in a spark.  Be sure to remove dust from the tops of ductwork and pipes, and keep floors swept free of dust.
  • Ensure that dust collection systems and ductwork are maintained in good working order.  The systems should be equipped with spark arrest systems which will help to prevent an explosion.
  • Train employees how to respond if an incident does occur.  Post numbers for local emergency responders, including 911.
  • Ensure that all ignition producing items (such as light switches, motors, and lights) in the area where the dust occurs are designed for that type of atmosphere.

OSHA recently released an article on the topic of combustible dust and how it relates to the Hazard Communication Standard.  The article provides information on what constitutes a combustible dust, the 5 elements needed for a combustible dust explosion, what to look for on an MSDS sheet, and more.  A link to this article can be found below.

The CSB has also released a video that is approximately 29 minutes and that would work well for a short safety meeting.  The video talks about several different explosions that have occurred over the past few years and what caused them, as well as how to prevent this from occuring in the future.  A link to this video can be found below.

The last two articles talk about prevention of combustible dust explosions and offer tips on how to reduce the chances of this occurring at your facility.

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