Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
Global Combustible Dust Hazard Awareness
Published:  09 September, 2009

John Astad, Director/Research Analyst for Combustible Dust Policy Institute, looks at the fallout from an explosion at a sugar factory in the United States last year.

Since last year, when the Imperial Sugar Refinery dust explosion occurred in the United States, many were not aware of the catastrophic results of dust explosions from seemingly harmless sugar.

Weeks following the Imperial Sugar incident, the Combustible Dust Policy Institute located in Santa Fe, Texas began researching combustible dust related fires and explosions through news accounts on the Web. In a short period the results were alarming with over a dozen incidents in less than a month occurring in the USA manufacturing, non-manufacturing and utility sectors. Several incidents from news accounts consisted of repeats where fire departments had responded to incidents previously.

Aftermath of explosion

At the conclusion of 2008 over 150 combustible dust related fires and explosions, through news reports, occurred in the USA industrial sector. Yet the numbers just did not add up, especially when governmental data utilized as the foundation to write combustible dust legislation and regulation noted 281 incidents in a twenty-five year period 1980-2005. This is a conservative amount of approximately 12 incidents annually in the USA and does not recognize the magnitude of the problem occurring in the present time frame.

Incident occurrences are not just an issue in the USA but a global one. Over the past several weeks combustible dust related fires and explosions have occurred in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the USA. It’s possible that many other incidents have occurred amongst global trading partners in the non-English speaking countries where obtaining information from news reports is limited. Hopefully this combustible dust section in IFJ will gain interest in these countries and assist in sharing combustible dust hazard awareness that will minimize and prevent incidents occurring globally.

A recent global trend I would like to share with readers is fires and explosions in the recycling and wood pellet national industries. Wood pellet production is an important industry and provides a multitude of jobs during the global financial crisis. With the approaching winter many global facilities are operating at full capacity to ensure customers have an abundant supply for home heating. With the increased production there will be the potential for fires and explosions. All stakeholders should thoroughly review their facility process hazard analysis and explosion protection documents to ensure that ignition hazards have been minimized.

In addition to the wood pellet industry, the recycling industries are experiencing fires and explosions on a weekly basis. Many of these incidents are not related to combustible dust yet at times combustible dust is a factor. An awareness of dust hazards is critical so as to prevent and minimize the effects of a dust explosion, which can be just as severe in overpressure effects as refinery vapor cloud explosions.

It’s not so much the national industry that is at risk rather the process found throughout various national industries that process food, wood, plastic, rubber, chemicals, etc. For example, in the recycling industry as in other industries, grinding mills are utilized in making the metals, plastics, etc into smaller combustible particulate solids. During this process combustible dust is generated in a concentration that could possibly be explosive. In the confines of a grinding mill all that is needed is an ignition source for an explosion or when not in confinement a combustible dust related fire (flash fire).

This is not an attempt to pick on or place blame on the recycling or wood pellet industries. Just an attempt to provide a proactive awareness amongst all global stakeholders in the manufacturing, non-manufacturing, and utility sectors that have combustible dust hazards present on a daily basis. Through lessons-learned of recent international incidents health and safety professionals, fire department personnel, and industrial fire brigades can obtain a proactive awareness and lessen the occurrence and severity of future incidents.

Future blog posts will include topics on global legislation/regulations/rulemaking, conferences/symposiums/training, global/national/regional incidents, enforcement/inspection activities, administrative controls/best engineering practices, and current events.  Reader input and comments is essential in providing awareness on combustible dust hazards in the global workplace. Just one incident in a local geographical area might appear to be a rare event. Yet when viewing on a global perspective combustible dust related fires and explosions are a regular occurrence.

Contact Info: John Astad
Office: 409-440-7185 (GMT-6)
Further information here.