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Mitigating combustible dust risks ensures the safety of your business while complying with OSHA regulations. This discussion category highlights current and pending OSHA regulations where HafcoVac equipment may be part of your solution.

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

Combustible Dust Decimates Chinese Tech Factory

Fires burn after combustible dust explosion in Chengdu, China

Aftermath of the Chengdu dust explosion. Photo:

Explosive Dust Kills Three in China

An explosion at a factory in the Chinese city of Chengdu has killed three workers and injured almost 20 others. This catastrophic explosion on May 20th, 2011 has been attributed to combustible dust accumulations, according to initial examinations by local authorities. The dust explosion led to the partial shutdown of the plant. Officials in Chengdu said the explosion had been caused by combustible dust in an air duct at a polishing workshop. Foxconn, a division of the Hon Hai Group of Taiwan, is the operator of the facility and occupies a golden position as one of Apple’s largest suppliers. The Chengdu facility appears to be a new factory and Foxconn boasts of hiring almost 100,000 new employees.

Warning Signs of a Dust Hazards

The Hong Kong-based labor watch-dog group called ‘Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior’ had noted a problem with potentially combustible dust accumulations throughout the factory in a report on working conditions issued only 2 months ago. The group said workers at the Chengdu factory had complained this year that the ventilation of the polishing department to be wholly inadequate. Workers in this section of the factory are charged with polishing iPad cases and the polishing process produces copious amounts of explosive dust on a particulate scale near microscopic. Workers are forced to inhale this explosive dust even though they are wearing respirators. The particulate is so fine that when workers take off their cotton gloves, their hands are completely coated with this combustible dust. After the release of these findings, Foxconn issued a response; stating that it was unfortunate that S. A.C.O.M. was seeking to capitalize on insignificant findings.

Workers from the Foxconn plant show just how much explosive dust accumulates on their person during an average shift
Video by S.A.C.O.M., courtesy of


Corporate Damage Control

Apple issued a statement after the explosion, saying that they regretted the tragic accident and that the cause of the blast was under investigation. Foxconn has recently been expanding its operational reach all across China to keep up with production demands. Apple has a deep relationship with Foxconn; which has had to cope with several recent worker suicides. Labor rights groups believe the suicides were the result of harsh working conditions. Foxconn, however, insists employees are respected and are treated well. After the suicides, Foxconn took steps to mitigate internal stresses; hiring counselors and even installing nets on some buildings to prevent suicide attempts. Apple has praised Foxconn, saying the company has definitely saved lives.  Apple; which has an established and well documented code of conduct for international suppliers, audits plants annually, but has had to deal with continuing problems that propagate in China’s industrial sector.

Unforeseen Consequences of Combustible Dust Explosions

The subsequent shutdown has stirred fears of production/ supply interruptions for the latest iPad. IHS iSuppli, said that the explosion at the Chengdu facility “could result in the loss of production of 500,000 Apple iPad 2 tablet computers during the second quarter of this year.” IHS iSuppli said that while most of the iPad production was actually being completed in the city of Shenzhen, the concern is that the Shenzhen factory might not be able to compensate for the disruption in Chengdu.

The Necessity for Combustible Dust Mitigation Practices

The Chengdu incident brings to light the need for adequate combustible dust training procedures and effective housekeeping measures; such as employing dust cleaners, in order to eliminate the possibility of catastrophic combustible dust explosions in every sector of the manufacturing industry. HafcoVac Explosion Proof vacuums are compressed air powered and completely anti-static. No electricity means no possibility of ignition by proxy and can provide peace of mind for manufacturers and factory operators who truly care for the health, safety and well-being of their employees.