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The Most Overlooked Combustible Dust Risks in Food Facilities

Combustible dust is defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as solid material comprised of distinct particles, regardless of their shape, size or chemical composition. 

Combustible dust is extremely hazardous and can create flash fires and explosions when it is suspended in the air and comes into contact with oxygen and a heat source. Depending on the severity, these fires and explosions can lead to serious worker injuries and even death. 

The risks from combustible dust are an issue in many processing industries, including the food industry. In fact, according to the 2019 MidYear Dust Incident Report released by DustSafetyScience, between January and June, 30 percent of all combustible dust incidents were related to the food industry.

What Are Combustible Dust Risks in Food and Grain Facilities?

Dust from flour, grain, sugar, alfalfa, herbs, hops, pulp and more are considered combustible in food facilities. Grain dust is particularly explosive when it becomes airborne or accumulates near an ignition source. 

According to OSHA, over 500 explosions have occurred in grain handling facilities across the US in the past 35 years. These explosions have resulted in 180 deaths and 675 injuries. According to DustSafetyScience, dust collectors, storage silos, elevators, conveyor systems and boilers also posed safety risks in facilities, due to accumulated dust. However, these are just the most common places to look for combustible dust: There are still many other overlooked dust risks within food facilities.

The Most Overlooked Dust Risks 

Food processing facilities, like most facilities, collect more dust than most people realize. It is when these risks are overlooked that potentially serious hazards may arise. Areas of high dust accumulation risk include:

Walls

Walls are likely the most overlooked risk in food facilities. Because combustible dust can be generated by a wide range of sources, anything from flour to pulp dust raises the risk of a hazardous situation. 

This dust can get into the air and stick to the walls very easily. If the walls are not cleaned regularly, that dust will steadily accumulate until it becomes a serious safety issue that can result in a fire or explosion.

Vents and Small Spaces

Another area of combustible dust accumulation risk often overlooked in food facilities are the vents and other small spaces. Like with walls, dust suspended in the air can travel and stick to vent covers, which can then push some particles back into the air if the vent gets clogged. 

Even if they are unclogged, dust can also travel through vents to other parts of the facility, which can lead to issues of cross-contamination. The dust can also end up near heat or electrical sources, which poses a serious fire and explosion risk.

Heat and Electrical Sources 

One of the key components to dust fires and explosions is a heat source. If dust penetrates these areas where heat is present, or where friction with moving parts can cause sparks, it creates the perfect environment for a dangerous situation. There are countless heat and electrical sources within food facilities, so the risk of dust penetrating these machines is incredibly high. 

Dust Collection and Storage Devices

Another area of overlooked dust risk is dust collection containers and storage devices, like dumpsters, storage containers and silos. These are areas of a facility that are sometimes poorly maintained and are rarely inspected. 

As a result, waste, products and dust can leak through and travel in the air to other areas of the facility. That airborne dust can end up anywhere, including an area where the risk of combusting is more likely, such as near heat or electrical sources.

Misaligned Conveyor Belts

A misaligned conveyor belt can also create a hazardous situation when combustible dust is concerned. When a conveyor belt becomes misaligned, it does not run as smoothly, which creates friction. 

Friction can end up leading to sparks, which can land on any of the material on the belt — products that may still have dust residue on them — resulting in a fire at best and an explosion at worst. 

In 2019, an explosion occurred at an Indian grain factory when raw material was being transferred from the boiler to the mechanical belt. The explosion left one person dead and nine others injured.

How HafcoVac Can Solve These Issues

Combustible dust risks in food facilities are plentiful. For that reason, it is important to maintain a clean, dust-free facility according to the guidelines set up by regulatory agencies like the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and OSHA. 

Both of these organizations are dedicated to ensuring the safety of facilities, workers and products. They have various safety guidelines and regulations that facilities are required by law to follow. 

For combustible dust, OSHA and NFPA standards look at every aspect of facilities and determine the best safety practices possible from identifying hazards to management and minimizing risks. One of the key standards is NFPA 652: Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust. NFPA 652 requires facility owners and operators to make certain changes to minimize combustible dust hazards within their facility. 

While there are various requirements to meet compliance with these standards, one easy fix is to invest in the right industrial vacuum as part of your overall housekeeping plan for your facility.

HafcoVac offers various industrial vacuum models that are made in the USA and meet the strict NFPA and OSHA standards. The vacuums from HafcoVac are NFPA 652, 664, 484, 70 and 61 compliant, which cover different aspects of fire, dust and other combustible material safety. 

HafcoVac vacuums run on compressed air and are certified for combustible dust and use in hazardous environments. Compressed air vacuums are unique because they have no motor, so there are no moving parts inside and do not need electricity to run. As a result, there is no risk of a motor arcing, creating friction or sparking, which can lead to fire or combustion.

Avoiding Combustible Dust Risks

Food facilities have countless combustible dust risks–many of which end up overlooked in favor of other risks. However, each risk, no matter how small it may seem, has the potential to result in a very serious and hazardous situation. 

Identifying overlooked risks, correcting them, and managing them per OSHA and NFPA standards, will help ensure a safe and compliant facility. Recognizing the areas of risk and cleaning them appropriately, using an approved industrial vacuum, is just one of the many steps to take.

If you need a certified industrial vacuum, contact us today. Our representatives can answer all of your questions and provide recommendations based on your specific requirements. You can even get same-day shipping, so you can get started right away protecting both your workers and your business.