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How to Prevent a Combustible Dust Explosion

Combustible dust is a risk facing manufacturing facilities all around the world. Unfortunately, the dirty truth about this risk is that many of the injuries and lives lost could have been prevented with some simple, proactive measures. Step 1: Educate yourself and your team The first step in any hazardous situation is education and awareness. If you want to protect your facility, you need to know what to look for. If you want your team to go home safe, they need to know the risks and how to prevent them. Some resources available to learn more about combustible dust include: Step 2: Conduct an audit of the materials and processes you use While many organic materials can combust, there are a number that may put your facility at increased risk. Whether it’s powdered egg whites, sugar or epoxy resin – you need to learn what the risks are so you can be prepared and save lives. [Read our list of combustible materials here] There are specific equipment and processing methods that can create dust. Some of these are:
  • Blasting
  • Cutting
  • Polishing
  • Crushing
  • Conveying
  • Mixing
  • Screening
  • Rolling/unrolling
  • Blowing
  • Grinding
  • Transporting
  • Sweeping
  • Sieving
  • Vacuuming
Step 3: Inspect your facility for problem areas Every facility is unique and only you can truly know all the places dust can collect. However, some common structural elements in the manufacturing industry where dust is often found include:
  • Rafters
  • Suspended ceilings
  • Ducts
  • Horizontal surfaces
  • Under/above processing equipment (sifters, grinders, furnaces, etc.)
  • Under/above transfer equipment (elevators or conveyors)
But dust collection areas aren’t the only things you’ll want to look for. You should also be on the hunt for any ignition sources. Not all explosions come from flames. In fact, many dust explosions have been caused by:
  • Friction
  • Sparks
  • Arcing
  • Hot surfaces
  • Stoves, ovens, or kilns
  • Electrostatic discharge
Step 4: Assess your cleaning practices While the guidelines for combustible dust are changing every day, some of the OSHA and NFPA-recommended cleaning practices are:
  • Using only industrial, explosion-proof, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter-equipped vacuums
  • Eliminating compressed air and broom sweeping as viable cleaning options, as recommended by the NFPA 654
  • Following a combinations of NADCA, NFPA, and OSHA indoor cleaning procedures
  • Asking cleaning vendors for detailed information about cleaning procedures, techniques, and qualifications 
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