NSC Panel Shares Combustible Dust Tips

Experts identified combustible dust safety hazards and offered tips on how to mitigate risks in "Combustible Dust, the NSC Focus Team Perspective." An OSHA expert said no timetable has been set for an OSHA rule.

PHILADELPHIA -- "There's been a complete change of philosophy in the U.S. regarding combustible dust. Now we look for accidents before they happen," Geof Brazier, chairman of Tulsa, Okla.-based BS&B Pressure Safety Management, told an audience of safety professionals at the National Safety Council's Congress & Expo on Oct. 31. "Many other countries still have that 'chasing the ambulance' kind of mentality."

Brazier, along with Sanji Kanth, senior safety engineer for OSHA, and Kevin Jeffries, senior safety manager of frozen foods for Kellogg Company, identified combustible dust safety hazards and offered tips on how to mitigate risks in "Combustible Dust, the NSC Focus Team Perspective."

The panel said much has been learned about the hazards of combustible dust since the Feb. 7, 2008, explosion and fire at Imperial Sugar's Port Wentworth, Ga., facility that killed 14 people and injured 36. In fact, OSHA has issued 9,466 violations since launching a combustible dust National Emphasis Program in 2007, Kanth said. "As far as a combustible dust standard, comments have been compiled from the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that was issued in October 2009. A timeframe for a rule has not been scheduled," Kanth said.

Frequent combustible dust safety hazards OSHA inspectors find in plants and factories include dust collections located inside a building without proper explosion protection systems, such as explosion venting and explosion suppression systems, and high dust accumulations due to poor housekeeping, Kanth explained.

"A big problem that I see is venting not being properly deployed," Brazier said. "About half of all vent installations I see are deployed with problems.

Brazier identified improper protection of bucket elevators, unprotected long ducts and pipes, improper protection of silos and bins, absence of building protection, and unprotected conveyors as hazards that can lead to combustible dust fires. Jeffries said plant and factory owners need to be aware of the hazards specific to their facilities in order to prevent and mitigate fires and explosions caused from combustible dust. "You have to control what contractors do at your worksite," said Jeffries, who helped rebuild the safety program at Imperial Sugar after the fatal combustible dust blast.

"Safety managers need to consider facility design, have dusts tested at a certified lab, and establish a detailed process hazard analysis, housekeeping protocols, and operator- and technical-level training," Jeffries said.

A large amount of dust explosions happen from November to March, when there are higher static concentrations, Jeffries added.

About the Author

Laura Swift is Senior Content Editor of two magazines owned by 1105 Media Inc., Occupational Health & Safety and Security Products.

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