Combustible Dust Fire Safety

Combustible Dust Fire Safety

21st February 2017

We’ve already published several articles about the dangers of construction dust, especially those that are derived from asbestos containing materials (ACMs) which still pose a very real danger here in the UK despite the total ban on the use of asbestos in 1999.  This is because asbestos was widely used in building materials until the ban and it continues to present a danger for those working on refurbishment projects.  However, today we’re going to take a look at combustible dust which can lead to industrial fires and even explosions in the workplace which result in deaths, injuries and property damage.

Combustible dust is a major cause of fire in so many sectors, including food manufacture, chemical manufacture, woodworking, metalworking and pharmaceuticals, among others.  This is because so many things, including food, dues, chemicals, metals and wood (even some materials that are not considered to be a fire risk in larger pieces) have the potential to become combustible when they are reduced to dust form. 

The typical fire scenario is that combustible material will come into contact with a source of ignition and cause a small fire which usually goes unreported but leads to a loss of product, time and sometimes causes minor injuries.  However, there is a potential for a much more serious fire.  If there is dust in an area, any primary explosion will cause the dust to become airborne and the resulting dust cloud may ignite and cause a secondary explosion that will be much more extreme and severe than the primary explosion.  If there is enough dust in the atmosphere the explosion can be several enough to bring down a whole facility, causing death, injury and major damage. 

There are measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of a combustible dust explosion, including:

·         Understanding your responsibilities and the facility/building in which your work is carried out.  It is ultimately your (or your company’s) responsibility to opt for safe equipment.  As the duty holder, you can be held accountable for any accidents and injuries caused by combustible dust.

·         Stay up to date at all times on the health and safety regulations, standards and recommendations so that you can make informed decisions.  Ignorance of the regulations is no excuse – as a duty holder it is your responsibility to inform yourself of current legislation at all times.

·         Make sure that you select the safest industrial vacuum for your application.  You need to choose equipment that will help you become safe and stay safe and this equipment must comply with all requirements set forth by the HSE, your insurance company and your company policy.

·         Make sure that your workforce is well informed of the risks associated with combustible dust and enlist their help in making sure that the workplace is safe.  Encourage members of staff to report any concerns they may have and ensure that you have a process in place to deal with their concerns.

You’ll need to ensure that all members of staff have undergone fire prevention and emergency procedure training and make sure that you have policies and procedures in place to cover fires that result from combustible dusts.  You will also need to carry out a dust hazard analysis (DHA) of the entire workplace to determine where the greatest risks lie and how you can eliminate or reduce them.