Do You Know Your Dust Explosion Risks?

Aug. 26, 2009

I recently traveled to Blue Springs, Mo., to visit with the folks at Fike Corp., supplier of products and services that protect people and critical assets from dangers such as fire, explosion and over-pressurization.

Specifically, I went there to interview experts about the importance of assessing the risk of dust explosions.

I recently traveled to Blue Springs, Mo., to visit with the folks at Fike Corp., supplier of products and services that protect people and critical assets from dangers such as fire, explosion and over-pressurization.

Specifically, I went there to interview experts about the importance of assessing the risk of dust explosions.

I learned that seemingly innocuous materials, when ground into fine dusts and suspended in the air, can be ignited. The results can be devastating – and even deadly.

I also learned that there are numerous ways to mitigate the risks of dust explosions – but facilities first have to understand what they are dealing with and what needs to be done to prevent disaster.

During my trip to Fike, I also got the chance to sit down with Guy Colonna of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). We chatted a bit about the combustible dust hazard process standard NFPA 654, which is currently undergoing revisions. The most recent changes: to make all the dust-type specific standards consistent and to use a process-safety-based approach beginning with hazard analysis.

In simple terms, does a hazard exist? If so, what are the appropriate measures that can be put in place to minimize the risks?

Up until now, adhering to these standards was voluntary. Unfortunately, many red flags were missed at numerous facilities because of the voluntary status and lives were lost as a consequence. The most recent event happened at the Imperial Sugar plant in Georgia. In February 2008 a dust explosion at the plant killed 14 people.

In February 2009, the House of Representatives re-introduced the Worker Protection against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act.

Currently, OSHA has announced its intent to initiate public rulemaking on protecting combustible dust hazard processes in the workplace.

The main takeaway point of the trip – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Do you know what your risks are?

Traci Purdum
Senior Digital Editor

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