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Up In Smoke: Combustible Dust Fires in Manufacturing Facilities

Posted on February 8, 2010

By now, most manufacturers are familiar with the story of combustible dust. They’ve read about it in the newspaper, “Googled” it online, watched it on CBS’s “60 Minutes” special1, or received a letter from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration informing them their facility is considered high risk for a combustible dust explosion. They have a solid picture in their minds of what an industrial explosion scene looks like: the remnants of a facility, a gaping hole, a collapsed roof, workers covered in soot and blood. It’s like a well-craft ed movie scene, except it’s real.

Combustible dust has been the culprit of deadly workplace blasts for decades, but not until the February 2008 explosion killed 14 people at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., did the issue begin getting the attention it deserved. OSHA stepped in, reissuing its combustible dust National Emphasis Program, and the industrial world became inundated with statistics, definitions, and preventative measures. But with all of the media attention and new-found information regarding combustible dust explosions, very little attention has been devoted to the most common combustible dust-related incident happening daily at facilities across the United States: fires. Essentially precursors to explosions, combustibledust fires are often regarded as “a part of business,” especially in heavy-industrial manufacturing facilities where eliminating hazardous dust is next to impossible. Although small dust-related fires might be the norm for some manufacturers, flames that don’t lead to a deadly explosion should be considered a near miss. Yet, unlike explosions that often get top billing in newspapers and on the nightly news, small fires usually get just a few brief sentences, if they’re covered at all. They also are rarely reported to state and federal agencies because, aside from random inspections; OSHA investigates significant incidents only if they involve a fatality or extensive injuries. Read the rest of the article here: http://ohsonline.com/articles/2009/12/01/combustible-dust-raises-explosive-issues.aspx?sc_lang=en