Combustible Dust Hazards In Manufacturing

Maintain Clean Indoor Air Quality To Combat Combustible Dust Fires and Explosions in Industrial Settings.

Maintain Clean Indoor Air Quality To Combat Combustible Dust Fires and Explosions in Industrial Settings

One of the most horrific events of America’s industrial manufacturing history was the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory fire in New York City. The tragedy, which killed 146 workers, led to the enactment of a succession of laws and regulations that eventually improved the protections and safety of all factory workers. (1)

But calamities still occur, such as the 2008 dust explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Georgia. Thirteen people were killed and another 42 were injured when extreme heat in a confined sugar bagging room mixed with product dust particulates.

Not all fires cause explosions or loss of life. In a typical incident, combustible material comes into contact with an ignition source, which causes a small fire. Even small fires in industrial facilities cause product loss, time and money. Or the outcome can be far worse. If there is nearby dust, the primary explosion will cause that dust to become airborne. Then, the dust cloud itself can ignite, causing a secondary explosion that will likely be many times the size and severity of the primary explosion. These secondary explosions have the potential to bring down entire facilities, causing immense damage and fatalities – a reality both the Triangle and Imperial disasters underscore. Today, most businesses have specific industrial safety measures in place in order to avoid a calamity. But such systems are only as good as the people who monitor them. Vigilance must be constant.

For a fire to actually occur, rapid oxidation of materials must mix with heat or light and various fuel sources. The familiar “Fire Triangle” illustrates:

Elements Of Fire
    1. Combustible dust (fuel)
    2. Ignition source (heat)
    3. Oxygen in air (oxidizer)
Elements Of Dust Explosion add to the triangle:
    4. Dispersion of dust particles in sufficient quantity and concentration
    5. Confinement of the dust cloud (2)

So what businesses are at risk? The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) defines industrial manufacturing properties as:

…Those with a variety of property uses, including manufacturing and processing, agriculture, utility or distribution systems, energy production, laboratories, mines or quarries, and forest, timberland, or woodlands. (3)

The definition attributed by the NFPA serves to highlight the types of manufacturing likely to create conditions conducive for fires to start. But the potential for accumulated particulate solids to ignite and create a flash fire or explosion is a constant hazard for in just about every industry you can name. The reason is that just about everything, including food, dyes, chemicals, and metals – even materials that aren’t fire risks in greater quantities – have the potential to be combustible in dust form. Industries, along with their ignition sources, with the highest incident reports are:

Food production – agricultural products such as sugar and grains

Woodworking – wood sawdust

Recycling Facilities – a wide variety of combustible materials are processed and transported

Metal Work – metallic dust

Synthetic Manufacturing – plastics, pharmaceuticals, rubber

The most recent NFPA estimates show an average of 37,000 fires at industrial plants and factories each year. (3) Many, if not all, of these fires and explosions could be avoided with proper – and diligently monitored – control measures. OSHA recommends the Three C’s for fuel and dust fire avoidance:

Capture dust before it escapes into a work area by using properly designed, installed, approved and maintained dust collection systems.
Contain dust within equipment, systems or rooms that are built and operated to safely handle combustible dust.
Clean work areas, overhead surfaces and concealed spaces frequently and thoroughly using safe housekeeping methods to remove combustible dusts not captured or contained 


At Air Systems Inc., we protect our customers by using our stellar products to capture particulate matter and remove potentially combustible fumes and vapors from their business environments. For the safety and peace of mind of you and your workforce, contact us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced environmental specialists.

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