Understanding the Risks of Combustible Dust Explosions

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When it comes to occupational material that can be extremely hazardous, what often comes to mind are acids, heavy metals, pesticides, and other caustic substances. It may come as a surprise to know that dust can be quite hazardous as well. When dust accumulates, and a small fire or explosion shakes up the dust, it can become highly explosive. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) combustible dust consists of small particles of dust that can become a serious fire hazard when suspended in air. Under certain conditions, combustible dust can cause a deadly explosion.

Examples of Combustible Dust Hazards

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board found that there were 199 fatalities and 718 injuries related to combustible dust between 1980 and 2005. The following materials classify as combustible dust hazards:

  • Pesticides
  • Rubber
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Wood
  • Textiles
  • Chemical dust, including sulfur or coal
  • Agricultural products, such as powdered milk, egg whites, sugar, flour, cornmeal, and grains

While all organizations generate a certain amount of dust, but some generate more than others. Considering the above examples, the following industries are at the highest risk for combustible dust explosions:

  • Coal mines
  • Woodworking companies
  • Food production companies
  • Recycling organizations
  • Chemical manufacturers

How Does a Combustible Dust Explosion Occur?

For a combustible dust incident to occur, the following factors must be present:

  • Source of ignition
  • The dust particles are dispersed
  • The space is contained
  • Oxygen
  • The substance itself

Pressure accumulates in confined spaces, and this increases the risk of an explosion. In most cases, a combustible dust explosion involves a primary explosion, which is the ignition of suspended dust in a confined space; and a secondary explosion, which is often triggered by the dust that the primary explosion shakes up. The secondary explosion is often much more severe than the initial explosion.

Preventing Dust Explosions in the Workplace

The first thing employers should do is determine whether their workplace produces any materials that generate dust. Next, it is crucial that employers are aware of all fire and ignition hazards that exist in the workplace, and whether there are areas where dust is likely to accumulate. If there are dust hazards present, make sure that you have an effective dust removal system in place. In addition, conduct regular inspections of confined spaces, and ensure that employees are trained on the risks associated with combustible dust. Certain surfaces can reduce the amount of dust that collects, so using these whenever possible is highly recommended. Make sure that electrical equipment is functioning properly, and that it is stored away from areas where dust can accumulate. Provide employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment for the specific job they are doing.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims of Dust Explosions

If you were seriously injured in a combustible dust explosion at work, contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will walk you through every step of the claims process and ensure that you receive the full financial benefits to which you are entitled. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.