Combustible Dust: Identifying and Addressing the Hazards

Filed in Safety by on June 29, 2010 4 Comments

A 2008 dust explosion at this sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia killed 14 workers and left many others seriously injured with severe burns. (Photo credit: U.S. Chemical Safety Board)

In the processing of a number of goods including food, grain, plastics, wood, paper, rubber,  textiles, metals, as well as during fossil fuel power generation, combustible materials –  and some materials normally considered noncombustible – can burn rapidly when in a finely divided form. Given the right concentrations and conditions, this dust can become highly explosive. Since 1980, more than 130 workers have been killed and more than 780 injured in combustible dust explosions.

The American workforce was reminded of the dangers of dust in 2008, when an explosion and subsequent fire at a sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia killed 14 workers and left many others seriously injured with severe burns.

Since December 2009, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been conducting a series of stakeholder meetings to gather comments and suggestions for protecting workers from combustible dust hazards in the workplace.

Meetings in Washington, Atlanta, and Chicago were followed by a first-of-its kind virtual stakeholder meeting yesterday, with nearly 400 participants.  The goal of these meetings is to use public comments and suggestions in developing a proposed standard for combustible dust.

Over the course of the next two weeks, the OSHA Combustible Dust Team will be keeping this conversation going, using this space to post additional questions related to combustible dust. We want to hear from you on the following topics to help expedite our efforts towards a proposed standard.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Patrick Parker says:

    Dr. Michaels and other distinguished colleagues. Having other commitments the day of the Combustible Dust live chat prevented me from commenting. Carbon Black Dust, and the problem of a privatized industry makes for management in my company more reluctant in proactive standard abatement. Approximately 18 months ago after his lunch break, an employee in our packaging (sacking) department observed what appeared to be an electrical switch panal arcing. As he approached the switch box, it exploded. His injuries included extensive dental work and a severe concussion.

  2. Randal Myers says:

    I sucked that filthy dust at half the places I have worked and nobody ever gave two s**ts about protecting you from it. Why all the fuss now?

  3. Christoph says:

    electrical panels are no joke. you must be very careful when thinking about working on one. Combustible dust is something that will be very hard to manage.

  4. I was not aware of this problem until I witnessed the aftermath of an incredibly powerful explosion that destroyed a grain elevator.

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