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Pulp and Paper: Understanding Combustible Dust Risks (Part 2)

Posted on March 7, 2013

Manufacturing 9 million tons of pulp annually, U.S. pulp, paper and paperboard mills produce large amounts of dust that settle on equipment and facility structure surfaces (see OSHA’s Safety & Health Topics). Combustible dust is any finely divided solid material that is 420 microns or smaller in diameter and presents a fire or explosion hazard when dispersed and ignited in air. If fire ignites in a contained area where combustible dust particles have accumulated, such as a duct system or overhead beam, the formula for an explosion is complete, and while an initial blast can be devastating, it often stirs up additional dust that can ignite, leading to a secondary blast that can destroy an entire facility.

By letting dust accumulate on horizontal surfaces, facilities are literally adding fuel to the fire and efforts should be taken to dramatically reduce dust build-up. A solid preventative first step is proper housekeeping. Occasionally, certain paper facilities, particularly those with areas processing chemically treated paper, may be required by OSHA to use an industrial vacuum cleaner classified as “explosion-proof” to clean hazard-rated areas. For more information on how to identify a certified explosion-proof industrial vacuum, read more here.

Properly-equipped industrial vacuum cleaners come in a broad range of models for the specific needs of the paper industry such as portable, intermittent-duty vacuums for general cleaning of paper dust to customized, continuous-duty vacuums for process integrated applications.

If manufacturers are unsure if they need a standard or explosion-proof vacuum cleaner, they should consult their authority having jurisdiction, such as a building inspector or fire marshal.

Check out part 1 of this series to learn about improving employee health with dust control!