combustible dust

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 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

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, airborne combustible dust 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.

The “Fire Triangle”

For a fire to actually occur, rapid oxidation of materials must mix with heat or light and various fuel sources.

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

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. 

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 in just about every industry you can name. The reason is that just about everything, including food, dyes, chemicals, and metals – even materials that don’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

Avoiding Fires

The most recent NFPA estimates show an average of 37,000 fires at industrial plants and factories each year.  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 the equipment, systems, or rooms that are built and operated to safely handle airborne combustible dust.
  • Clean work areas, overhead surfaces, and concealed spaces frequently and thoroughly using safe housekeeping methods to remove airborne combustible dust 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.

Combustible Dust Hazards, Unseen Explosive Threats


On the big screen, fantastic blasts make for an exciting cinematic experience. But in real life, explosions are something to be feared and avoided with great vigilance.

Triggers for workplace blasts fall into two categories: fumes and dust. While fumes can often be detected by smell, combustible dust hazards are much more insidious. Combustible dust particles can hide in workshop and factory nooks and crannies and can ignite with only the smallest of sparks.  Combustible dust hazards are imminent when the right conditions are present – the result of which can be a massively destructive and deadly explosion. Disasters in production facilities from China to California and Tennessee to Tanzania underscore the real threat posed by combustible dust hazards in the workplace

Pharmaceutical companies are particularly exposed due to the materials used in the formulation of their products. Ingredients used in the making of oral dosage products are finely divided solid particles containing flammable oxidants in dust form. These powdery bits can linger in the atmosphere, then fall and hide on heat-inducing processing equipment which can cause an explosion. As a result, new particles are sent into the air which can ignite, creating residual particle matter which can then cause additional explosions. These secondary blasts are typically more destructive because they are less localized.

combustible dust in pharmaceutical industry

To understand why the pharmaceutical industry is at particular risk, one must be reminded of the formula for particulate matter combustion using the “Dust Explosion Pentagon” as a guide. The five factors, oxygen, heat, fuel, dispersion, and confinement all exist in the formulation and processing of oral products at pharmaceutical facilities. The ignition of concealed ingredient dust particulates is a frightening and very real possibility.

While pharma manufacturers are aware of combustible dust hazards as they relate to the products they process, containment of ingredient-based particulate matter remains a constant battle. At Air Systems Inc., we have the experience, depth of knowledge, and superior products to protect pharmaceutical companies and their employees from the threat of at-work explosions. Contact us today to set up an appointment with one of our air quality specialists.