Saturday, March 1, 2008

Combustible Dust Hazards: Alarming Trend

An alarming trend is occurring across the nation at processing facilities in general industry where fires and explosions are occurring repeatedly, especially where combustible dusts are generated. In many instances no injuries or fatalities occur; only damage to the facility and a negative economic impact to the community.

In less fortunate instances, such as the preventable recent tragic Dixie Crystal sugar refinery explosion located in the heart of Dixie, lives are senselessly lost in conjunction with insurmountable physical pain and suffering to workers and their loved ones.

It was only two years ago that the Chemical Safety Board submitted, at the completion of a Combustible Dust Study, a report to the Department of Labor recommending the implementation of an OSHA comprehensive dust standard to protect the health and safety of workers from the hazards of combustible dust explosions and fires. So far the OSHA has failed to act. In the meantime combustible dust explosions and fires continue across a wide spectrum of industries across the nation's heartland.

GRAND FORKS (AP)..."The fire early Thursday morning was contained in the dust collection system at the North American Foods plant..."

In the CSB study for the period of 1980-2005, investigators discovered that over 40 percent of combustible dust fires and explosions occurred in the dust collection systems and 24 percent of these incidents were sparked in food processing facilities such as the one at North American Foods in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The CSB found that in all industries, dust collectors are the equipment most often involved in incidents;similarly, Zalosh et al. (2005) report that dust collectors account for more than 40 percent of all dust explosions.

Findings of the actual ignition source of the Grand Forks dehydrated potato plant has yet to be determined. In retrospect, all plant managers
throughout the nation , through close scrutiny of their Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) will have to reassess their current operating procedures to insure minimum explosive concentrations (MEC) and minimum ignition temperatures (MIT) are not breached in the vicinity of potential ignition sources such as non-compliant electrical fixtures.

Biggest challenge is...most MSDS, fail to list these important physical properties in contrast and analogous to flammable liquid flash points listed for petroleum product. Incidents of combustible fires and explosions will continue while the workforce is in the dark in regards to the combustible dusts hazards they are daily working with across the nation.

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