Combustible Dust Explosions
Combustible dusts are small particles that present an explosion hazard
when in the right chemical or flammable atmospheres. A dust explosion
can be catastrophic. In the past, these explosions have resulted in employee
deaths, injuries, and property damage at plants and other work locations
in the United States. Many employers and employees are not even aware
of the risk of combustible dust in work environments. Despite the fact
that little is said about combustible dust explosions, many industries
are at risk to these types of blasts.
According to the OSHA, the following are at risk for combustible dust explosions:
- Agricultural Industries
- Chemical Plants
- Food Processing or Manufacturing Plants
- Grain Processing Plants
- Fertilizer Plants
- Tobacco Plants
- Furniture Manufacturing Facilities
- Pharmaceutical Companies
- Pesticide Companies
- Tire & Rubber Manufacturing Plants
- Dye Factories
- Coal Factories
- Metal Processing Locations
- Recycling Operations
- Paper & Pulp Processing Plants
- Wood Works Industries
- Plastics Plants
- Fossil Fuel Power Generation Plants
What causes a dust explosion?
Oxygen, heat, and fuel may cause a blast in cases where the three elements
react together. In a combustible dust explosion, the dust acts as the
fuel. OSHA writes that the dust particles need to disperse in a sufficient
quantity and concentration to cause this combustion. The reaction is known
as deflagration. If the deflagration happens in a confined space such
as a room or an unventilated vessel, then this can cause the pressure
to rise to an uncontainable level.
OSHA describes this process as the "dust explosion pentagon"
with five points:
When a dust explosion occurs, it can often trigger secondary explosions.
This is because the initial blast may disperse more combustible dust particles
into the atmosphere, which will react with the heat. Many times, the secondary
explosions are far more destructive than the initial explosion was. OSHA
reports that most deaths in combustible dust explosions come from the
secondary explosion, not the primary one.
Preventing Combustible Dust Explosions
Combustible dust explosions can almost always be prevented. OSHA recommends
that work supervisors conduct a hazard assessment of all materials that
are handled, operations conducted, spaces at the workplace, and potential
ignition sources. If things need to be rearranged, repaired, or removed,
then these actions need to be taken.
Employers can also reduce the possibility of a combustible dust explosion
by implementing a hazardous inspection and testing spaces for the presence
of this fuel. Workplaces should install dust collection systems and filters,
as well as minimize the escape of dust from ventilation systems. It is
also important that employers use surfaces in their workplace that minimize
dust accumulation and are easy to clean. Workers should never use cleaning
methods that generate dust clouds if there is an ignition source present
and should use only vacuum cleaners approved for dust collection.
To minimize the possibility of a dust explosion, all workers should be
cautioned to separate heated surfaces from dusts and to use industrial
trucks properly. As well, workers need to remember to use appropriate
electrical wiring methods and control static electricity in the work environment.
No one should smoke or do any other activity that provides the opportunity
for an open flame of a spark. Also, employers need to control the amount
of mechanical sparks and friction at plants and work places and use separator
devices to remove any foreign materials that could ignite combustibles.
If you were injured in a combustible dust explosion, talk to an
industrial injury attorney at Arnold & Itkin.