Controlling Combustible Dusts

Controlling combustible dusts and their associated hazards in facilities across the country remains a priority for many industries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has placed an emphasis on this topic in recent years as well. Although preventable, combustible dust explosions can result in extreme and deadly events. OSHA has created a variety of resources to address these hazards but has yet to release guidance on combustible dust hazards. Citations have been given under the General Duty Clause and often reference National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other standards.

Laboratory testing is the foundation on which a combustible dust program is built. To quantify potentially explosive conditions, combustion-related characteristics of the material must be determined. Control methods would be chosen based on testing results and other factors identified in the area where the dust accumulates. Common control methods include ventilation and controlling either the dust or any ignition hazards in the environment.

A properly designed ventilation system can prevent the buildup of dust hazards. Special considerations need to be made for the ventilation equipment itself. Explosive relief panels and engineered solutions to control sparks and other ignition hazards are potential options for ventilation equipment.

Frequent housekeeping can prevent the buildup of dust in the workplace. “Settled” materials can be especially dangerous. The smallest particles often take the longest to deposit on surfaces. Their smaller size often means they are more explosive than other larger particles. If not removed regularly, these particles can accumulate and become a literal ticking time bomb. In many dust explosion events, a smaller primary explosion occurs to launch this accumulated dust into the air in a massive quantity and density. When this dust cloud meets an ignition source, it results in a larger secondary explosion.

To see the effects of the dust explosion at Imperial Sugar Company, visit the following website:

You can also learn about the dust explosion at AL Solutions:

Combustible dust hazards are among the worst possible scenarios a facility might experience.  The Environmental 360 team can work with your team to identify potential hazards and aid in the integration of effective control strategies.

Cover Photo: ©MaxxieMW via

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