When it comes to workplace safety, many different industries need to be well informed about combustible dust explosions, as they present a very serious, potentially fatal hazard to employees. When combustible dusts (a combustible dust is any fine material that can catch fire and explode) mix with air, death, injury and entire buildings can be destroyed if the right set of conditions all occur together.
The dangerous part about combustible dust explosions is that many employers and employees are not even aware of them. As such, this blog post will cover everything you need to know about combustible dust explosions so that you can protect your employees and your business.
What Materials Can Be A Combustible Dust Hazard?
Many materials can pose a combustible dust hazard, including agricultural products (egg whites, powdered milk, grains), metals or chemical dusts such as coal, to name just a few.
Industries At Risk
There are many industries that are at risk for a combustible dust explosion, including grain elevators, food production, chemical manufacturing, woodworking facilities and metal processing, to name just a few.
How Do Combustible Dust Explosions Occur?
Combustible dust explosions occur when five factors all come together at once. First, oxygen, heat and fuel as well as dust particles in high enough quantities lead to rapid combustion (this is called dispersion). If this occurs in a confined space such as a building, room, etc., the pressure that occurs as a result then causes the explosion. Essentially, the cause of combustible dust explosions boils down to five factors: oxygen, fuel, heat dispersion, dust and confinement. These five factors are called the Dust Explosion Pentagon.
It is also very important to note that combustible dusts don’t necessarily just cause explosions. Combustible dust actually causes fires in many different facilities every single day.
How to Prevent a Combustible Dust Explosion
To prevent a combustible dust explosion, it is recommended that the following items are thoroughly assessed for potential hazards: all materials, operations (including by-products), all spaces and potential sources of ignition. An emergency action plan and emergency exit routes also need to be assessed.
In addition to these assessments, there are dust control recommendations, ignition control recommendations and injury and damage control methods. The following list is not exhaustive but rather meant to provide a general overview of what this entails.
- A hazardous dust control program that includes inspection and testing
- Minimizing dust escaping from equipment or ventilation systems
- Using appropriate electrical equipment and wiring methods
- Separation of the hazard
Again, this list is not exhaustive.