Examining the New U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s Combustible Dust Call to Action – Here’s How You Can Prepare Your Facility

Do you put sugar in your coffee, or use charcoal in your grill? Have you made your own bread at home or enjoyed woodworking? Most of us have, but have we thought about the processes involved in manufacturing these products? Are you aware that these processes produce combustible dust? Unless you’re working in these facilities, you’re probably not thinking about the hazards that combustible dust produces across industries.

What is combustible dust? Simply put, combustible dusts are solids made up of particles that present combustion and fire hazards under certain conditions. Combustible dusts come in many forms and are present within many industries. Some examples of combustible dusts include: flours, grains, hops, sugars, charcoal, lactose, aluminum, wood dusts, rubbers, and many more. Most natural and synthetic organic materials can form combustible dust, including some metals.

Combustible dust explosions form under a variety of conditions:

  • Explosive dust is present
  • Explosive dust is airborne
  • Explosive dust is in a concentration of explosive range
  • The atmosphere supports combustion
  • An ignition source is present
Figure 1: Dust Explosion Pentagon courtesy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

The danger doesn’t end with the initial explosion. In fact, secondary dust explosions caused by fugitive dusts (dust suspended in the air, and/or in hidden places, such as on beam) often create the most damage and lead to more fatalities.

What are the dangers of combustible dust explosions?

The United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) concluded that between 1980 and 2005, there were 281 combustible dust incidents (not including grain-related dust explosions). These killed 119 workers, injured 718 workers, and severely damaged the industrial facilities affected.
OSHA’s Grain Handling Study reported that in the last 35 years there were over 500 explosions linked to grain handling dusts alone. These resulted in 180 deaths and 675 injuries. Despite safety standards and practices in place, these hazards are a continued danger across all industries.

The CSB Call to Action: Working towards mitigating the risk

In October of 2018, the CSB issued a special “Call to Action: Combustible Dust” to gain more information on the state of dust management, control, training and other elements related to combustible dust hazards across industries. The Call to Action was released as part of the CSB’s investigation into the Didion Corn Mill explosion, which occurred in May of 2017. This renewed focus concentrates on misconceptions regarding combustible dust awareness and protection, as well as inconsistent safety methods across facilities and industries, leading to unsafe conditions.

While compliance with safety standards is a must, additional safeguards, such as proactive, consistent housekeeping programs, engineered solutions and Dust Hazard Analyses should also be implemented, along with establishing an informed company culture to help prevent these incidents.

To learn more about combustible dust hazards and comprehensive risk mitigation solutions, download our free whitepaper, “Dust to Bust: Avoiding Combustible Dust Losses Through Multi-Layered Solutions.”

Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. “Combustible Dust Hazard Study, 2006-H-1”, November 2006. http://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=482
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Grain Handling Overview.” United States Department of Labor. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/grainhandling/
CSB News Release. “CSB Releases Call to Action on Combustible Dust Hazards.” U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 24 Oct. 2018.  https://www.csb.gov/csb-releases-call-to-action-on-combustible-dust-hazards/
U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. “Call to Action: Combustible Dust,” 2018. https://www.csb.gov/assets/1/6/call_to_action_-_final1.pdf Dust Pentagon image: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “Building a Safety Program to Protect the Nanotechnology Workforce.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016-102. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2016-102/


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