In a manufacturing environment, dust is more than an untidy nuisance. Any number of manufacturing materials – everything from coal to sugar to pharmaceutical products – can produce fine dust that, in some circumstances, can catch fire and burn extremely rapidly. In an emergency scenario, this dust can also become highly explosive. This explosive dust is known as “combustible dust,” and it can be a major workplace hazard. Fortunately, there is a strict protocol guiding the safe collection of combustible dust. Read on to find out more.
How to Safely Collect Combustible Dust
What Is Combustible Dust?
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety defines combustible dust as “any fine material that has the ability to catch fire and explode when mixed with air.” This includes dust derived from solid organic materials (including sugar or wood) as well as metals and, in some cases, nonmetallic inorganic materials like pharmaceuticals, coal, and certain dyes. You may not think of many of these materials as combustible or explosive. However, under the right circumstances, small particles from these materials can burn or explode. Combustible dust exists in a wide range of industries including agriculture, chemical manufacturing, recycling, and even textile production.
Dangers Associated with Combustible Dust
Combustible dust can be extremely destructive, leading to catastrophic injuries and loss of life. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlines these hazards. OSHA cites the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which “identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that led to the deaths of 119 workers, injured 718, and extensively damaged numerous industrial facilities.” OSHA reports that, in many of these cases, workers and managers were completely unaware of the potential for dust explosions. Sadly, most or all of these incidents could have been avoided through combustible dust education and collection.
How to Safely Collect Dust
OSHA presents strict dust collection guidelines for organizations working with combustible materials:
- Before collection: Prior to sampling or collecting dust, facility managers should ensure that the collection area is well ventilated. For example, some metal dust may generate hydrogen or other flammable gases. Ventilating the area will allow any flammable gas, like hydrogen gas, to dissipate before sampling can commence.
- During collection: Regardless of facility type, vacuuming is OSHA’s recommended cleaning and collection method. Sweeping or water wash-down may also be permitted in certain cases. Dust blow-down is also an option, but it should be used only when the previous methods have already been used. Blow-down can, in some cases, generate dust clouds, which can be disastrous if ignition sources are present. Regardless of the collection method, housekeeping procedures must be documented to ensure consistency and workplace safety.
- Between collection sessions: OSHA recommends ongoing dust housekeeping procedures to manage dust levels between cleaning and collection. Those measures include, but are not limited to the following: smaller dust cleaning sessions at regular intervals; regularly cleaning floors and horizontal surfaces to minimize dust accumulation; ensuring dust accumulation is no more than 1/32 inches thick at any given time; finally, ensuring that electric cleaning devices like vacuum cleaners are approved for OSHA hazard classification.
Combustible dust is an ever-present hazard in a wide variety of industries. Fortunately, OSHA offers strict regulations on how to safely collect dust. With ongoing education and diligence, industry leaders can prevent avoidable dust combustion accidents, keeping workers safer than ever.
Do you have further questions about how to safely collect combustible dust? Give Environmental Works a call. Environmental Works is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and can respond at a moment’s notice, no matter the situation. We have in-house experts ready to help walk you through the specifics of your organization’s cleaning and collection needs. When you’re ready, you can contact EWI online or call 877-827-9500 for more information. In an emergency, call our emergency hotline at 877-827-9500 for fast and reliable help immediately.