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Combustible Dust: An Explosive Work Hazard

Accidents happen on the job every day in the United States. Serious injury or fatalities caused by explosive, combustible dust that can be found in many American factories may not happen as often as slip and fall accidents, but when they do they can be incredibly devastating.

What is combustible dust?

Combustible dust is described as: "A combustible particulate solid that presents a fire or deflagration hazard when suspended in air or other oxidizing medium over a range of concentrations, regardless of particle size or shape."

There are a number of industries that are prone to these types of accidents.  The most prevalent industries include manufacturing plants that process wood, plastics, pharmaceuticals, food and rubber.  All of these types of products are combustible in the form of tiny particles and dust.

There are several elements that must be present in order for a combustible dust explosion to occur. These elements include:

  • Combustible dust
  • An ignition source, such as fire or heat
  • An oxidizer (oxygen in the air)
  • Dispersion of dust particles in sufficient quantity and concentration
  • Confinement of a dust cloud

U.S. Chemical Safety Board and OSHA

The U.S Chemical Safety Board, the federal agency charged with investigating chemical accidents to protect workers, the public and the environment, has been researching and investigating combustible dust accidents since 2003. These investigations were launched after three major explosions which occurred in Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina, resulting fourteen deaths.

After these tragedies the safety board issued a nationwide study to determine the causes of these explosions and how to implement better safety measures. In November 2006, the board released its final report in Washington D.C. at a public meeting, requesting that OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) set a new regulatory standards designed to prevent combustible explosions and fires.

The U.S. CSB believes OSHA's response to the seven recommendations on dust, fuel, gas and process safety management has been "unacceptable." 

Combustible Dust Tragedies

Over the years, there have been many combustible gas tragedies where men and women have lost their lives, or been permanently injured and unable to return to work.

  • In February 2008, The Imperial Sugar Refinery in Georgia suffered a series of sugar dust explosions at their plant, burning dozens of employees and killing fourteen workers. Upon examination, investigators found that the company ignored the threat.

  • In 2011, five workers were killed when three serious metal dust explosions occurred at the Hoeganaes Metal Power Plant, located in Gallatin, Tennessee.

  • From 2008 to 2012, there were fifty combustible dust accidents that killed twenty-nine workers and injured one hundred and sixty-one. This is entirely too many lives lost over what could be prevented.

All companies that are subject to these types of disasters are obligated to promote worker safety through engineering controls, proper ventilation, employee training and a variety of other measures.  Unfortunately, in many past cases, employers and workers were completely unaware of the potential danger of combustible dust – which is negligence on the company's part.

If you work in a plant that is susceptible to the dangers of combustible dust, make certain your employer has taken proper measures to ensure your safety.  Education is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your coworkers.

If you've been injured on the job, Colorado workers' compensation attorney Mack Babcock will work hard to get you the compensation you deserve.

Prevention is important, but it can't stop all accidents.  If you have been involved in any type of accident at your place of employment, contact Colorado's experienced workers' compensation attorney Mack Babcock to schedule a free consultation.

To learn more about workers' compensation injuries, browse our knowledge center.

Disclaimer

While the Babcock Law Firm tirelessly works to obtain successful outcomes for its clients, prior positive outcomes are no guarantee of future success. Indicating prior positive results is in no way intended to guarantee future results.

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