Combustible Dust: An Explosion Hazard
Any combustible material can burn rapidly when in a finely divided form. If such a dust is suspended in air in the right concentration, under certain conditions, it can become explosible. Even materials that do not burn in larger pieces (such as aluminum or iron), given the proper conditions, can be explosible in dust form.
The force from such an explosion can cause employee deaths, injuries, and destruction of entire buildings. For example, 3 workers were killed in a 2010 titanium dust explosion in West Virginia, and 14 workers were killed in a 2008 sugar dust explosion in Georgia. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that led to the deaths of 119 workers, injured 718, and extensively damaged numerous industrial facilities.
A wide variety of materials that can be explosible in dust form exist in many industries. Examples of these materials include: food (e.g., candy, sugar, spice, starch, flour, feed), grain, tobacco, plastics, wood, paper, pulp, rubber, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dyes, coal, metals (e.g., aluminum, chromium, iron, magnesium, and zinc). These materials are used in a wide range of industries and processes, such as agriculture, chemical manufacturing, pharmaceutical production, furniture, textiles, fossil fuel power generation, recycling operations, and metal working and processing which includes additive manufacturing and 3D printing.
- Precautions for Firefighters to Prevent Dust Explosions. OSHA QuickCard, Publication 3674, (August 2013).
- Firefighting Precautions at Facilities with Combustible Dust. OSHA Publication 3644, (April 2013).
- Expert Forum Summary Report (PDF). OSHA, (May 31, 2011).