Dust Explosions: What They Are and How to Prevent Them

by Lawton Brothers | Oct 04, 2023


Combustible dust explosions are more common and deadly than many people realize. Since 1980, over 150 workers in the United States have lost their lives due to these explosions, with more than 850 injured. But how does this happen? What are dust explosions? 

Well, according to OSHA, combustible dust are fine particles of dust that present a “flash” or explosion hazard when suspended in the air under certain conditions. The ‘conditions’ include a sufficient concentration of airborne combustible dust, confinement of the dust in a specific area of the facility, oxygen, and ignition (which could be heat, an electrical charge, or several other triggers). Realistically, any combustible material can burn rapidly when in a finely divided form, and many industries create combustible dust, including agriculture, furniture and textile, recycling operations, metalworking, chemical manufacturing, and more. 

A dust explosion is caused by a buildup of fine combustible particles in an enclosed space that reacts to an ignition source. Upon the first ignition, other particles nearby will begin to combust, sending a ripple effect through the space. As the airwaves explode outward, they will dislodge more dust, potentially fueling a second dust explosion (or several). In some cases, a dust explosion can destroy an entire building. The good news is, they’re preventable. 

Preventing a Dust Explosion

First, conduct a dust-hazard inspection to see if a potential problem exists. Be sure to note what type of dust your facility creates and whether it has a high or low potential for explosion. Regular cleaning is the first defense against dust explosions. Clean surfaces with an industrial vacuum system specifically designed for dry debris removal and use a multistage HEPA-level filtration system. Dust is most likely to build up in hard-to-clean places, so make sure your teams are cleaning the hidden and obstructed areas of your facility (including suspended ceilings, ventilation ducts, the tops of pipes, and underneath equipment). Maintain a regular inspection schedule to ensure there is not an accumulation of dust. 

To minimize the risk of fire or explosion, try to avoid dispersing dust throughout the air. This means avoiding the use of compressed air, fans, or brooms for cleaning these areas. These methods will only encourage dust to disperse and hang in the air. Additionally, some vacuums and other equipment are not designed to handle the level of dust that accumulates in your facility. Using vacuums that are not industrial grade can become overheated and spark an ignition on their own. To avoid this risk, use certified vacuums for Class II conditions. Finally, ensure the machinery in use in these high-risk areas is well-operated and grounded. Ensure all employees are aware of the risks of dust explosions and how to decrease that risk. 

Take Safety to the Next Level

Each of the measures mentioned above will help reduce the chance of your facility experiencing a dust explosion. To take your safety to the next level, implement a regular inspection routine and the training of all employees. Invest in an industrial vacuum with HEPA filtration and clean high-risk areas daily. And if you need supplies or suggestions, Lawton Brothers is here to help. Give us a call with your questions at: 800.432.0813.

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