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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:

  • Heat
  • Fuel
  • Oxygen
  • Dispersion
  • Confinement

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.

Client's portion of total recovery may be subject to Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement claims, Medicare/Medicaid liens or other third-party claims or liens. These verdicts and settlements are intended to be representative of cases handled by Arnold & Itkin, LLP. These listings are not a guarantee or prediction of the outcome of any other claims.

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