The Dangers of Combustible Dust

A Deeper Look at Combustible Dust

In July 2009 the the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the CSB, made a new safety video, “Combustible Dust: An Insidious Hazard” and testified in Congress about the dangers of combustible dusts. They had released their Combustible Dust Hazard Study” in 2006 which calls for regulation and enforcement by OSHA. “No company wants to see its facility blown up and destroyed and its employees killed,” former CSB Chairman John Bresland says in this powerful video.  The CSB study concluded that good engineering and safety practices to prevent dust explosions have existed for decades, but there was no comprehensive federal standard requiring adherence to these well-known safety practices.

Often cited are the National Fire Prevention Association’s (NFPA) Combustible Dust Hazard Codes and Standards in the video.

A Plea for OSHA Combustible Dust Standards

Amy Beasley Spencer, of the NFPA, believes if there was a national OSHA requirement dealing with dust explosions that the incidents would be significantly decreased. NFPA standards emphasize safe cleaning methods, such as utilizing explosion proof vacuums in concert with proper training.
One of the case studies is the dust explosion and fire that damaged the CTA Acoustics plant on February 20, 2003 in Corbin, Kentucky. The Kentucky Department of Labor published and distributed the educational alert bulletin Combustible Dust Explosion Hazards.

Complacency Vs. Health and Safety Practices

Why these explosions continue to happen is a mystery to many experts when the information is out there about the dangers of combustible dust. Expert James Dahn appears in the CSB video to warn industry and workers against complacency: “I mean we’ve been operating for 40 years and never had a problem,” Mr. Dahn states. “That kind of logic is one that can guarantee you will get into trouble.”

Combustible Dust: By the Numbers

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is featured announcing in 2009 that OSHA would begin the rule making on combustible dust.  Worker Protection against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act of 2011 (H.R. 522 Feb 8, 2011) is in Congress now. OSHA reported in a trade news release dated April 28, 2011 that since 1980 nearly 150 workers have been killed and more than 850 injured in combustible dust explosions. They held a Combustible Dust Expert Forum on May 13, 2011. Attendee Jeffrey Nichols posted his notes on the conference here..

According to the NFPA, a catastrophic explosion can occur from “as little as 1/32 of an inch of accumulated dust, around the thickness of a dime, covering just 5% of a room’s area.” One of their recommendations is to perform rigorous housekeeping to remove any explosive dust that does build up.

Further Pleading for Combustible Dust Standards

According to the CSB chairman John Bresland, the problem is that although the NFPA standards have often been adopted at the State and the local levels, they are not enforced in any regular way. He goes on to say that there needs to be better communication to and education of workers on the dangers of combustible dust and that should be done with improved information  on material safety data sheets (MSDS).

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. For more information on combustible dust please visit CSB.gov.

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