The Dirty Truth About Combustible Dust

Combustible Dust Explosion Examples

2002 – Vicksburg, Mississippi: Six severe injuries and five deaths
2003 – Kinston, North Carolina: Dozens of severe injuries and six deaths
2003 – Corbin, Kentucky: Seven deaths
2003 – Huntington, Indiana: Two burned employees and one death
2008 ­– Port Wentworth, Georgia: 14 deaths and more than 40 hospitalized for severe burns
2011 – Gallatin, Tennessee: Five deaths and three severe injuries
2011 – Louisville, Kentucky: Two deaths and two severe injuries
2014 – Kunshan, China: 75 deaths and 185 injuries

What happened to these innocent lives? Combustible dust.

What is combustible dust?

Combustible dust is any fine material that has the ability to catch fire and explode when mixed with air. “Combustible dusts are often either organic or metal dusts ground into small particles, fibers, chips, chunks, flakes or a small mixture of these” (OSHA).

Why should I care about combustible dust?

If you work in, operate, clean, or manage a manufacturing or processing facility…you should care about combustible dust. In a recent article, the Chemical Safety Board documented 50 combustible dust accidents between 2008 and 2012. The accidents led to 29 fatalities and 161 injuries. Each one involved facilities that didn’t think they were at risk. Each one was preventable.

What types of dust should I look for?

There are more dusts that are combustible than not. OSHA has created a poster you can download that details all of the materials that can combust when in powdered form. However, if you work in any of the following industries, you need to pay closer attention to how you clean your facilities:

  • Agriculture
  • Chemical
  • Food (sugar, spice, starch, flour, and more)
  • Fertilizer
  • Tobacco
  • Plastic
  • Wood
  • Furniture
  • Paper
  • Tire and Rubber
  • Textile
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Construction (Manufacturing materials)

What can I do about combustible dust?

Combustible dust is a threat. The steps you take to educate yourself and reduce its impact can save lives. Some things you can do to protect your facility and your employees’ safety are:

  • Inform employees of the dangers of combustible dust
  • Have an emergency evacuation plan in the case of an explosion
  • Hire certified cleaning contractors to inspect and match your regular housekeeping tasks
  • Make sure your facility meets NFPA standards
  • Make dust an important issue for every employee

Want to see first hand what combustible dust can do to a manufacturing facility?

Watch the Chemical Safety Board’s investigative video of the Imperial Sugar explosion in Port Wentworth, Georgia.

Ready to change your cleaning protocol? Contact us and we can talk about the options for removing this deadly hazard from your facility.

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