Workplace safety is a complicated thing to ensure. This is partly because many threats come from seemingly harmless causes, such as the dust in the air. When combustible dust collects in sufficient quantities, and in the right conditions, it can rapidly burn and lead to an explosion.
Hundreds of dust explosion cases have been documented, and their consequences often prove catastrophic. The explosive power can outright destroy a building, killing or seriously injuring any workers inside.
A sugar refinery northwest of Savannah suffered a dust explosion in 2008, causing the death of 14 workers. One that occurred at a pharmaceutical plant in North Carolina killed six people, and injured 38 others. In Kentucky, an acoustics insulation manufacturing plant was destroyed by a chain of explosions, leaving seven dead and dozens more hospitalized.
Minimizing the Risk
What can plant owners do against this risk? While every facility and case is unique, many explosions can be traced back to negligence in one of the following areas.
1. Hazard assessment – What operations produce combustible dust, and how can this dust be ignited? Identifying the risks and making countermeasures is crucial. For instance, Dualdraw.com says a downdraft table should be used to collect the dust from combustible materials.
2. Communication – Are employees properly briefed on the dangers of dust explosions? Do they know what actions to take to prevent such problems from happening? Employee training and communication are crucial factors in workplace safety.
3. Equipment and systems – Considering that ovens and other equipment often play a part in dust explosions, their upkeep is essential to prevent malfunctions. Ventilation systems should also be appropriate for the facility.
4. Damage control – Should the worst occur, it is also important to have damage control procedures in place. There should be plans for containing and suppressing the hazard. Sprinkler systems, segregation, protection systems, and other measures will prove useful.
When in doubt, always consult a safety expert well-versed on the topic. Make sure that your facility is fully compliant.