Combustible Dust: What Is It and Why Do You Need to Worry About It?
Getting rid of all the dust in a manufacturing, production or storage facility is likely not feasible, even if you do your best to put cleaning protocols in place. In most situations, having some dust present does not pose a problem, as it doesn’t represent a threat to your facility or personnel. However, combustible dust is the exception, as improper handling of this material, can create the conditions for costly and dangerous accidents or incidents to occur.
What Is Combustible Dust?
Exactly what it sounds like, combustible dust is small particulate matter that has the potential for either a flash fire or an explosion. This risk is present when it is dispersed in the air or another medium that is a potential oxidizer (1).
Combustible dust can be created by a surprisingly large number of different materials, and in fact, nearly all organic materials can form combustible dust (2). These include foods like sugar, flour, cocoa, starch, some vitamins and even powdered milk. Wood dust, dust formed from nylon or cotton, certain plastics and resins, coal or carbon dust and even dried waste dust (at a sewage treatment plant) are also potentially combustible. Many metals can also create combustible dust, including manganese, iron, magnesium powder, aluminum and sulfur (3).
Why Is It Dangerous?
You may picture just a small spark or tiny flash fire being caused when combustible dust is ignited, but in reality, combustible dust can actually cause a full-scale explosion – especially in enclosed areas. It is important not to underestimate the danger of this potential hazard, as it can damage valuable equipment, set a secondary fire (causing more damage and danger) and endanger any personnel who are on-site.
Even if this type of scenario doesn’t occur, a flash fire caused by combustible dust may spread to building contents or structure, which also presents the same types of risks to safety and property as an explosion.
Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore It
As if these reasons weren’t enough for you to address any combustible dust that is present at your facility, failure to do so can result in stiff fines. You are required to comply with all applicable state and federal regulations governing combustible dust and workplace safety. If you disregard these laws, you could be hit with costly fines, and you may be liable for any injuries sustained as well.
How You Can Remediate It
The first step to keep your facility up to code is to determine if any combustible dust is present. Professional testing is required to ensure that the results are accurate. You will receive a detailed report, explaining if the dust that your facility is producing is combustible in nature and whether remediation is necessary.
If it is required, professional remediation should follow all of the OSHA guidelines, to ensure full compliance with regulations is restored. This not only removes the risk of fines and incidents, which could endanger lives or property, it can also help to extend the life and maintain the value of your equipment as well.