Monday, April 7, 2008

Canadian Neighbor Combustible Dust Explosion

The six combustible dust explosions last month is not limited to incidents in the United States. Over the weekend a combustible dust explosion occurred at Associated Proteins, in Ste Agathe, Canada. Associated Proteins, a canola processing facility, and the largest expeller-pressed oilseed crushing plant in the world has a state-of-the art facility which has gone to great expense to ensure the most cutting edge technology is used in their manufacturing process. An educational video concerning the canola manufacturing process can be viewed on their web site.

So how can a plant that is so clean experience a dust explosion? Poor housekeeping is out of the question. OSHA's mantra concerning the prevention of future combustible dust explosions and fire is good housekeeping. True, housekeeping is important, but this is only one priority and that is where the current OSHA voluntary program fails miserably in preventing future combustible dust explosions and fires.

Complex Pathways
The pathways concerning the molecular fragments that generate a combustible dust explosion and fire are more complex that just housekeeping. In any manufacturing process electrical charges are constantly being separated, accumulated, and dissipated in the form of electrostatic discharges or static electricity. At this level it doesn't take much to ignite a cloud or layer of combustible dust generated from combustible particulate solids of metals, food products, wood or plastics. So even if good housekeeping is adhered to the potential for an incident persists as dusts are inherently part of the process where an potentially explosive atmospheres coexist.

It would turn into a terrible day at petrochemical plants if the explosive atmospheres from flammable vapors were ignored like is the case with combustible dust. Think explosive atmospheres....combustible dust and flammable vapors. It's all the same yet that is where the disconnect is here in the United States. Yet the majority of stakeholders do not believe combustible dusts can provide an explosive atmospheres on a regular basis.

MSDS Information Nonexistent
On the other end of the spectrum there are facilities that accumulate combustible dusts in the manufacturing process and are not aware of the hazards involved. Just last week, Quality Cushion and Pad in Georgia experienced a combustible dust fire that destroyed the facility where housekeeping was questionable according to the news report.

If the proper information on the fire hazards such as minimum ignition temperature, minimum explosive concentrations, and minimum ignition energy were included in the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), incidents like this could be prevented. The big question is, who's responsibility is it to include this vital information in the MSDS...the raw product supplier or the company? In this case, that could be quite complex since this facility receives millions of pounds of recyled polyurethane foam by the truckload from thousands of sources.

Explosion Protection Document
Combustible dust explosions and fires are a global problem. Our global trading partners in the European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, and the New Zealand are already addressing the problem with the requirement that facilities develop an explosion protection document. The recent example of the unfortunate Canadian incident highlights that poor housekeeping is not the sole cause of combustible dust explosions and fires.

It's time that all facilities in the United States large or small review the combustible dust hazards in their workplace and prepare their own explosion protection document. If you don't know the minimum ignition temperature (MIT) or minimum ignition energy (MIE) of the combustible dust at your facility then please find out now. Until then you are on borrowed time.

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