Are We Doing Enough To Stop Combustible Dust?
Updated: Oct 7
As manufacturers, our goal is to always provide the top product for consumers or commercial manufacturers to use. We hire the best chemists, engineers, and top safety personnel to train our staff on production protocol, as well as handling and site safety. However, many overlook the very standards we are supposed to uphold as manufacturers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration continues to uphold workplace safety standards and regulate the hazards of combustible dusts, but as many of us know that is often overlooked by the manufacturers at the expense of the employees entrusted with producing consumer and commercial goods. The same employees work day after day in an environment that they rely on for being safe. Why wouldn’t manufacturers comply, and ensure the health and safety of their employees?
One possible explanation is a lack of proper education on the dangers of combustible dust. While dust explosions, or deflagrations as they are termed, have been recorded since the 18th century it is easy to think old adage, "It won't happen to me". So even when a company deals with dust considered combustible, the problem gets swept under the rug, literally. It's an understandable decision. There is an endless string of work and decisions to be made for management, and dust control is just one of the many. The difference with combustible dust though is the complete devastation that can occur.
Combustible dusts are fine particles that present an explosion hazard when suspended in air in certain conditions. Usually organic or metal in nature, a dust explosion can be catastrophic and cause employee deaths, injuries, and destruction of entire buildings. In many combustible dust incidents, employers and employees are simply unaware that a hazard even exists, or they simply ignore it, which we have seen in a number of cases.
Dust is surprisingly pervasive and lethal. Industries that are at risk of combustible dust explosion hazards exist in a variety of industries, including agriculture. chemicals, food (e.g .. candy, sugar. spice, starch, flour. feed). grain, fertilizer, tobacco, plastics, wood, paper, pulp, rubber, furniture, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, tire and rubber manufacturing, dyes, coal, metal processing, recycling operations, and fossil fuel power generation. Combustible dust can detonate from as little as the static electricity caused by the movement of particles alone. Many have noticed a trend through the years that industries are aware of the hazards and choose to push them under the carpet. Not only placing their employees in danger on a daily basis, but also the consumer or commercial goods that are produced, the environment around the facility, and the community of which they are a part. Dust-related fires and explosions continue to impact a range of industries and the people who work in them around the globe. Why is the safety of our employees and facilities, not a concern until after a major incident causing death and injuries happens?
It is important to determine if your company has a hazard, and if you do, you must take action now to prevent tragic consequences. Even a thin layer of dust the width of a paperclip, once airborne, can be ignited by the smallest spark. Although manufacturers keep to general housekeeping by sweeping the floors and ensuring proper ventilation systems that scrub the air, most manufacturers overlook the build-up along beams, piping, and other surfaces that may be beyond the reach of everyday cleaning. They don’t see it; they don’t clean it. All the more reason for manufacturers to continuously be aware of the hazards that exist and take corrective action when noticed.
Refrain from using brooms or compressed air to clean dust. Rather, use a vacuum approved specifically for combustible dust collection. These vacuums must be OSHA-certified “Explosion proof.”
Avoid having flat, unused surfaces where dust can accumulate.
Ensure your facility uses and maintains appropriate ventilation equipment and systems.
Be aware of worn equipment. such as bearings. can generate heat and become an ignition source. Keep all equipment in good condition.
Eliminate unnecessary sources of ignition, including heat sources, friction, sparks, and open flames.
There are three key entities involved in combustible dust issues, each with its own particular area of responsibility. Although these top three agencies are the responsible agencies for regulation, that doesn’t mean you need to wait until you are the one facing a fine.
The National Fire Protection Association sets safety standards, amending and updating them on a regular basis. This fall the NFPA starts its first revision cycle of NFPA 652, the organization’s newly introduced combustible dust standard for general industry. Later this fall, the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is preparing to hold a panel examining the impacts of a proposed OSHA combustible dust standard on small businesses – the first major event in its combustible dust rulemaking process to be scheduled since 2010.
OSHA’s role. together with local authorities, is to enforce the standards published by NFPA. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA‘s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education, and assistance.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is an independent federal agency responsible for investigating industrial chemical accidents.
For more information and regulation changes visit OSHA.
See our article in October 2016 issue of Facility Safety Management Magazine.