Dust that can kill : Is it in your workplace?
When it comes to health and safety in the workplace there is one common and deadly problem hiding in the corners of industries across the world: Combustible Dust. Combustible dust is "any fine material that has the ability to catch fire and explode when mixed with air." Source Combustible dust can be formed from a large variety of materials, even items that are not combustible under "regular conditions".
Combustible dust can be from: metal (such as aluminum, bronze, magnesium, zinc etc.), wood, grain, sugar, flour, rubber, plastic, pharmaceuticals, coal and so much more.
Dusts are created when materials are transported, handled, processed, polished, ground and shaped. Dusts are also created by abrasive blasting, cutting, crushing, mixing, sifting or screening dry materials. The buildup of dried residue from the processing of wet materials can also generate dusts. Essentially, any workplace that generates dust is potentially at risk. Source
The particles will explode if "[they] are small enough and they're dispersed in a sufficient concentration within a confined area near an ignition source, which can be as small as a welding spark, or a hot machine motor, or bearing. Even seemingly small amounts of accumulated combustible dust can cause catastrophic damage. Source The United States Chemical Safety board (CSB) emphasizes the danger of combustible dust, and describes the greatest damages, including injuries and fatalities, as often being caused from secondary explosions. A primary incident, a smaller explosion or a fire, causes a vibration through the facility, which then disrupts dust that sits on surfaces that are often overlooked by staff, such as; rafters, beams, tops of equipment etc. causing a second explosion or a chain reaction of explosions throughout the facility. The NFPA states that a catastrophic explosion can occur with an accumulation of dust covering only 5% of a room's surface, and only roughly 1/32nd of an inch thick (approximately the width of a dime).
- The CSB reported a total of 281 combustible dust explosions in the US between 1980 and 2005, causing 119 deaths and 718 injuries.
- The CSB has investigated 9 serious combustible dust explosions since 2003, which account for 36 deaths and 128 injuries in the US
- In 1992 in Nova Scotia at Westray Mines, an explosion occurred, resulting in the deaths of all 26 employees working at the time
- In Canada, in 2012, two BC sawmills suffered from combustible dust explosions, killing 4 and injuring 42 others
- DustEx Research Ltd. recorded 75 fires, 14 explosions, 9 injuries and 1 fatality in North America all in the first 6 months of 2018
The numbers don't lie, combustible dust continues to play a huge role in the injuries and fatalities suffered in the workplace. It is important for businesses to take the appropriate preventative measures to ensure a combustible dust explosion is not going to happen in their workplace; causing damage to buildings and equipment, injuring employees or even worse, resulting in death.
- dust must be cleaned regularly
- proper dust removal operations must be in place
- dust collection/removal must follow fire codes and standards set out by provincial/federal/state laws
- proper training must be provided so all staff members are aware of the dangers associated with combustible dust
- proper training must be provided so all staff members are aware of what to do in case of an emergency, as some emergency methods may spread the fire/explosion further
- A safety audit is a great step if you are unsure whether your workplace complies with the laws set out for your industry