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December 30, 2014

OH&S Offers Three Steps to Safely Collect Combustible Dust

Warning combustible dust area sign
Although OSHA still has no combustible dust hazard regulation, inspectors do issue fines for lack of proper housekeeping related to dust buildup, using the Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP), CPL 03-00-008, for citation guidelines. The NEP lists 18 different standards ranging from ventilation to electrical to housekeeping.

An article in the December issue of OH&S magazine recommends three steps to help select equipment that is safe for collecting combustible dust in nearly any environment. Here's a summary of the steps:

Three Steps to Safe Dust Collection:

  1. Understand Your Facility and Your Responsibilities. Have dust from your workplace tested to find out if it's combustible, and confirm your NEC classification.
  2. Review OSHA and NFPA Regulations, Standards and Recommendations. The OSHA combustible dust NEP includes maintenance and housekeeping advice, and NFPA 654 Section 8 discusses housekeeping procedures and frequency. The NFPA document lists vacuuming as the preferred cleaning method, because it avoids creation of dust clouds. 
  3. Choose the safest industrial vacuum for your situation. Many terms and certification claims are used to promote industrial vacuums, but OSHA and NFPA do not certify vacuums, although NFPA provides recommended specifications. Electrical arcs and sparks are key concerns when using vacuums in combustible dust areas. The OH&S article gives more explanation of vacuum design, terms and certification. 

Ten questions OSHA inspectors may ask you about combustible dust: (These are some of the sample questions listed in OSHA's Combustible Dust NEP.)

  1. What types of combustible dust does your facility have?
  2. Do you have a housekeeping program with regular cleaning frequencies established to minimize dust accumulations within operating areas?
  3. Is there dust accumulation of 1/32 inch thick or greater?
  4. If dust explosion hazards exist in rooms, buildings, or other enclosures, do such areas have explosion relief venting distributed over the exterior walls of buildings and enclosures? Is such venting directed to a safe location away from employees?
  5. Are electrically powered cleaning devices, such as sweepers or vacuum cleaners used in dusty areas, approved for the hazard classification, as required under 1910.307(b)?
  6. Are areas where smoking is prohibited posted with No Smoking signs?
  7. Does the dust collector system have spark detection and explosion/deflagration suppression systems?
  8. Are duct systems, dust collectors, and dust-producing machinery bonded and grounded to minimize accumulation of static electrical charge?
  9. In areas where a hazardous quantity of dust accumulates or is present in suspension in the air, does all electrical wiring and equipment comply with 1910.307(b) requirements?
  10. Are employees who are involved in operating, maintaining, and supervising facilities that handle combustible dust trained in the hazards of the combustible dust?

The best recommendation for combustible dust collection: find an expert who will visit your facility and help you select an appropriate solution.

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