Dangers of Combustible Dust

What is a combustible dust? Many workers are not aware that there are fire and explosion hazards posed by many different combustible dusts. Metals like aluminum and magnesium, along with wood, coal, plastic, sugar, flour, paper, and certain textile materials can pose a fire or explosion hazard when present in fine dust. These dusts can be found in several industries. They are especially dangerous because after an initial ignition or explosion occurs, it can cause fires or explosions.

combustible dust explosion

Credit: csb.gov

Primary and Secondary Waves

Now that we know what combustible dust is, let’s further explore the components of its origin. Explosions, due to combustible dust, usually occur in two waves. The first wave known as the primary explosion begins with the “ideal” concentration of airborne accumulated dust. The dust is then enclosed in a tight space, such as a capsule. Once ignited, the dust burns rapid and releases gases. These released gases, thus cause the pressure to rise and can result in an explosion. The second wave, or secondary explosion, occurs as this additional dust becomes suspended in the air and also ignites. Secondary explosions are often more destructive than primary ones because of the sheer volume and concentration of additional dust available to fuel them.

Dust Explosion Waves

Credit: grainger.com

Furthermore, there is a long list of industries vulnerable to the hazard of dust explosions including, but not limited to, agriculture, chemicals, food (such as sugar, candy, spice, starch, flour and feed), grain, fertilizer, tobacco, plastics, wood, forest, paper, pulp, rubber, furniture, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, tire and rubber manufacturers, dyes, coal, metal processing (such as aluminum, chromium, iron, magnesium and zinc), recycling operations and coal. Given this long list of vulnerable industries combined with the fact that many SDSs may not adequately identify a combustible dust threat, OSHA suggests completing an in-depth dust hazard assessment covering the following areas:

  • Materials which may be combustible
  • Processes which utilize any combustible dust
  • Open and especially hidden areas where dust may collect
  • Opportunities which may cause dust to become airborne
  • Any source of ignition

OCS Group Hazardous Area Combustible Dust Training

While dust explosions can occur in multiple industries. I’ve learned a good place to start learning about regulatory and safety laws and procedures is through the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) website, as well as the American Petroleum Institute (API), which is the only trade association that represents all aspects of America’s oil and gas industry. One of OCS Group’s new and enhanced hazardous areas training course, Hazardous Area Combustible Training, focuses on terminology and protection concepts utilized in explosive areas.

A careful analysis of the area you currently work in is highly essential to prevent any dust explosion to ever occur, this is the first step to ensuring safety in the jobsite.

Works cited:

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, www.osha.gov/dsg/combustibledust/guidance.html.

“Combustible Dust Hazard Investigation.” CSB, www.csb.gov/combustible-dust-hazard-investigation/.

About the author: Alise M. Mena is a Business student at the University of Houston-Downtown Marilyn Davies College of Business. Alise is in her 3rd year studying marketing as her major and is currently an OCS Group


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