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November 22, 2011

Winter Weather Can Increase Dust Explosion Risks

Dust explosions often occur from November to March when there are higher static electricity concentrations, according to a panel of safety experts who spoke about combustible dust hazards at the recent National Safety Council Congress & Expo.

Nearly 280 dust fires and explosions have occurred in U.S. industrial facilities over the past 25 years, resulting in 119 fatalities and more than 700 injuries. Since launching a combustible dust National Emphasis Program in 2007, OSHA has issued 9,466 dust-related violations, but has not yet established a timeframe for a combustible dust standard.

The panel identified combustible dust safety hazards frequently found in plants and factories:

  • Dust collections located inside a building without proper explosion protection systemsStatic Control Area safety sign
  • High dust accumulations due to poor housekeeping
  • Improper deployment of venting
  • Improper protection of bucket elevators
  • Unprotected long ducts and pipes
  • Improper protection of silos and bins
  • Absence of building protection
  • Unprotected conveyors
Combustible dusts include: metals, textiles, wood, coal, plastic, biosolids and organics such as paper, sugar or dried blood. Without proper housekeeping, even a facility below OSHA's PEL (permissible exposure limit) for process-generated dust can accumulate enough dust to become dangerous. If drafts, vibrations or other incidents send settled dust into the air near an ignition source, a fire and dust explosion could occur.

"Safety managers need to consider facility design, have dusts tested at a certified lab, and establish a detailed process hazard analysis, housekeeping protocols, and operator- and technical-level training," said panel member Kevin Jeffries, senior safety manager of frozen foods for Kellogg Company.

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