You’ve had your dust tested, and you know you have combustible dust in your facility. You’ve also completed your dust hazard analysis, so you know what processes and activities put you at the greatest risk.
Now comes the most important question: What should you do about it?
There are a variety of approaches to controlling dust in your facility, including using inherently safer design practices (see NFPA 652 Section 9.1) and installing industrial dust collectors. No matter what design and process adjustments you make, a good housekeeping plan will also need to be part of the plan. In fact, it will likely be the most effective part.
Housekeeping removes the fuel required for secondary dust explosions
Dust explosions happen in processing plants all of the time. It’s very common for dust in a confined space, such as inside process equipment or a dust collector, to ignite. These primary dust explosions are relatively easy to control, and they aren’t the catastrophic incidents that level buildings.
The real problem is when a primary explosion stirs up dust that has accumulated elsewhere, such as on overhead pipes or the surfaces of equipment. When this airborne dust ignites, it can cause a secondary explosion. This is where the real danger lies. In its combustible dust explosion factsheet, OSHA notes that “historically, fatalities from dust explosions have largely been the result of secondary dust explosions.”
Housekeeping prevents secondary dust explosions by preemptively removing their source of fuel. If you don’t allow dust to accumulate, there won’t be any airborne dust for the primary explosion to ignite.
You can implement a housekeeping program immediately and inexpensively
Designing your building to be inherently safer is an excellent way to reduce your risk. But if a construction project isn’t on the schedule or in the budget, then inherently safer design practices might not be feasible in the near-term.
Good housekeeping, on the other hand, is something you can start practicing right away. All you need is an NRTL-certified explosion-proof industrial vacuum, a housekeeping plan that addresses your combustible dust risks, and the personnel to carry it out.
Even if you already have a housekeeping program in place, there’s likely room for improvement
We sell vacuums, so we’re obviously very excited about housekeeping. But we know not everyone feels that way.
In processing plants, just like at home, cleaning tends to be viewed as a chore. Many plants don’t have dedicated cleaning staff, so housekeeping is piled on top of an employee’s other responsibilities. It’s often the last thing someone does at the end of a shift. They might be tired or anxious to get home, which could impact their performance.
Many industrial processing companies are also having trouble retaining employees. That often means cleaning responsibilities fall to someone who’s new and may not yet have received proper training.
This is all just to say that, even if you have a housekeeping SOP on the books, there’s probably room for improvement in how that SOP is implemented. Ensuring your housekeeping procedures effectively remove dust before it can accumulate is the easiest way to instantly reduce your risk of a combustible dust incident. If you’re unsure about how to clean effectively, lean on your equipment suppliers. They can provide ongoing training and support to make sure your cleaning program is doing its job.
For more information on the housekeeping equipment you need to stay safe and compliant, visit our Combustible Dust page.