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Combustible Dust: What is it and why should I care?

Sugar plant explosion in GeorgiaWho would have thought that dust can be a cause of an explosion?  Most people probably think dust is inert and a sign of laziness.  In reality though, some types of dust can actually cause explosions under certain conditions – leading to injury, death and destruction.

There are different kinds of dust so it is important to recognize what type of dust is found in your facility and whether it is listed as an explosive dust by OSHA.  There are agricultural, carbonaceous, metal, chemical and plastic dusts. 

Some require more serious management than others.   Here is a listing provided by OSHA.

How does dust cause explosions?

You may wonder how dust can cause explosions.  For a fire to start there must be three elements - oxygen, heat and fuel.  A simple spark in a confined area like a building, room, vessel or process equipment where combustible dust particles are dispersed in sufficient quantity and concentration can lead to rapid combustion.  “These five factors (oxygen, heat, fuel, dispersion, and confinement) are known as the “Dust Explosion Pentagon”. If one element of the pentagon is missing, an explosion cannot occur.” – OSHA Fact Sheet, March, 2008.

An initial explosion may dislodge additional dust and lead to larger, more destructive explosions.  Activated sprinkler systems may also stir up additional dust and carry the particles to other areas, thus actually spreading the threat of further explosions.

How much dust is too much?

This is a tough question to answer and currently being considered by OSHA.  Currently they state, “The amount of dust accumulation necessary to cause an explosive concentration can vary greatly. This is because there are so many variables – the particle size of the dust, the method of dispersion, ventilation system modes, air currents, physical barriers, and the volume of the area in which the dust cloud exists or may exist. As a result, simple rules of thumb regarding accumulation (such as writing in the dust or visibility in a dust cloud) can be subjective and misleading. The hazard analysis should be tailored to the specific circumstances in each facility and the full range of variables affecting the hazard.” – OSHA. (July 31, 2005). Combustible dust in industry: preventing and mitigating the effects of fire and explosions.

It’s hiding from you

Some of the explosive dust located in your facility may not be easily visible to you.  One deadly pharmaceutical plant explosion was contributed to a build up of explosive dust above a suspended ceiling.  It is important to identify the areas in you facility that dust may accumulate and hide.

NFPA 654, Standard for the Prevention of Fire and Dust Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing, and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids, also recommends:

  • Minimize the escape of dust from process equipment or ventilation systems;
  • Use dust collection systems and filters;
  • Utilize surfaces that minimize dust accumulation and facilitate cleaning;
  • Provide access to all hidden areas to permit inspection;
  • Inspect for dust residues in open and hidden areas, at regular intervals;
  • Clean dust residues at regular intervals;
  • Use cleaning methods that do not generate dust clouds, if ignition sources are present;
  • Only use vacuum cleaners approved for dust collection;
  • Locate relief valves away from dust hazard areas; and
  • Develop and implement a hazardous dust inspection, testing, housekeeping, and control program (preferably in writing with established frequency and methods).

Ruwac is here to help

Ruwac appreciates the seriousness of the potential deadly hazard found in explosive dust and offers a complete line of vacuums ETL Certified to UL and CSA standards for Class I, Div 1, 2, Group D and Class II, Div 1, 2, Group F & G.  Our vacuum systems are made in America from the highest quality materials and custom fit to your needs.  Let’s discuss your explosive dust situation to discern how we can help create a safer environment for your employees and your business.  Call us today at 800.736.6288.

Photo acquired from www.cbs.gov.

You may be required to use an explosive proof vacuum in your facility if you make any of the following items:

  • Abrasive products
  • Alumina and aluminum production and processing
  • Aluminum die-castings
  • Aluminum extruded products
  • Aluminum foundries
  • Beet sugar
  • Broadwoven fabric mills, manmade fiber and silk
  • Burial caskets
  • Cane sugar refining
  • Cellulosic manmade fibers
  • Chemicals and chemical preparations
  • Coating, engraving, and allied services
  • Crop preparation services
  • Custom compounding of purchased plastics resins
  • Drapery hardware and window blinds and shades
  • Electric and gas welding and soldering equipment
  • Electroplating, plating, polishing, anodizing, and coloring
  • Establishments engaged in the generation, transmission, and/or distribution of electric energy for sale
  • Fabricated metal products
  • Fabricated rubber products
  • Farm product warehousing and storage
  • Finishers of broadwoven fabrics of manmade fiber and silk
  • Flavoring extracts, syrups, powders
  • Flour and other grain mill products
  • Fresh cookies, crackers, pretzels, and similar "dry" bakery products
  • Guided missiles and space vehicles
  • Gum and wood chemicals
  • Industrial inorganic chemicals
  • Manufacturing industries
  • Metal cans
  • Metal heat treating
  • Metal stampings
  • Millwork
  • Miscellaneous fabricated wire products
  • Molded, extruded, and lathe-cut mechanical rubber goods
  • Motor vehicle parts and accessories
  • Noncurrent-carrying wiring devices
  • Nonferrous foundries, except aluminum and copper
  • Paints, varnishes, lacquers, enamels, and allied products
  • Pharmaceutical preparations
  • Plastic materials, synthetic resins, and nonvulcanizable elastomers
  • Plastics foam products
  • Plastics materials and basic forms and shapes
  • Plastics products
  • Prefabricated wood buildings and components
  • Prepared foods and miscellaneous food specialties
  • Primary production of aluminum
  • Reconstituted wood products
  • Refuse systems
  • Sanitary treatment facilities
  • Sawmills and planing mills
  • Scrap and waste materials
  • Secondary smelting and refining of nonferrous metals
  • Soap and other detergents, except specialty cleaners
  • Structural wood members
  • Textile goods
  • Tires and inner tubes
  • Transportation equipment
  • Unsupported plastics film and sheet
  • Unsupported plastics profile shapes
  • Wet corn milling
  • Wood household furniture, except upholstered
  • Wood kitchen cabinets
  • Wood products