Is there combustible dust in your workplace?

Construction worker

While obvious workplace dangers exist in many industries across the country, there are hidden hazards that many employees and companies may not think about. One of these invisible threats is combustible dust, a fact known by a Lake County workers’ compensation lawyer. This occupational dust lurks in many U.S. warehouses and manufacturing sites, and poses a significant risk to workers. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board reported that combustible dust injured 718 American workers, killed 119 and caused a massive amount of property damage to industrial facilities nationwide between 1980 and 2005.

What is combustible dust?

The air in many industrial plants is filled with dust that is created during the manufacturing process. As certain elements divide into a fine dust, they become highly unstable and may explode under the right circumstances. These elements include metals, such as magnesium, zinc, aluminum, chromium and iron, as well as grains, rubber, plastics, paper, wood, pharmaceuticals and pesticides. Even certain foods, such as spice, sugar, flour and starch, can become unpredictable under specific conditions. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 14 Georgia workers were killed in a sugar dust explosion in 2008.

Volatile dust can be found in many different industries, including pharmaceutical production, chemical manufacturing, textiles, furniture, recycling, metal working, fossil fuel, agriculture, power generation and welding.

How does a dust explosion occur?

In order to ignite a fire, there must be oxygen, fuel and heat present, as reported by OSHA. A Lake County workers’ compensation lawyer knows that a dust explosion can occur when these elements are joined by a certain concentration of finely volatile dust. The dust must also be confined so that it accumulates into a type of dust cloud. The dust can collect over time or may be released immediately, like when an accumulation of powder is shaken loose off of a machine.

There are certain environmental factors that can increase the likelihood of a dust explosion, and affect the severity of the explosion. These include:

  • Element’s particle size and shape
  • Ambient humidity
  • Moisture content
  • Amount of oxygen available
  • Concentration of dust present

In order to avoid an explosion, employers should ensure that all workspaces are safe and properly ventilated. They should also limit the presence of ignition sources, or eliminate them altogether. Employers should have the proper training procedures in place to ensure workers know how to minimize the risk of dust explosions. Employers and workers should also know what to do in case an explosion should occur.

The force from a dust explosion can cause catastrophic injuries and death. A Lake County workers’ compensation lawyer may be helpful in cases where a worker has been injured in a workplace accident.