Effective PPE for Flammable Dust

Effective PPE for Flammable Dust

Enhancing flame resistant PPE safety programs to protect against combustible dust hazards.

With the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) gaining influence across industries, companies have begun to adopt PPE programs that help mitigate impacts of unexpected short-term thermal hazards. FR/AR daily wear is an important addition to workplace PPE programs as they help reduce the severity of injuries due to a thermal event which can cause severe injuries to those not wearing flame resistant (FR), arc-rated (AR) garments. One such hazard to be aware of and protect against is combustible dust.

Combustible dust is small flammable dust particles in the air. When these particles ignite from a spark or heat, and deflagrate in equipment, the resultant pressure build up can cause a dangerous—often violent— combustible dust event to occur. This explosion can further disperse combustible dust throughout the facility and can cause additional, lower pressure explosions, also known as deflagration, which makes the initial thermal event even more dangerous. The combustion, or chain of combustions, can also cause flash fires which can lead to life-threatening second- or third-degree burns even if a person is not in the direct vicinity of the original explosion. Combustible dust is a major safety concern in multiple industries, including manufacturing and storage facilities with excess plastic, food, textile, paper and metal dusts.

It is important to conduct a thorough risk assessment via the hierarchy of risk controls, such as elimination, engineering and administrative controls to reduce the likelihood of combustible dust incident occurrence and use the last control, PPE, to mitigate the severity of injury if an incident were to occur. NFPA 652 requires a dust hazard analysis to analyze how combustible the dust in the workplace may be. This analysis, with the aid of the risk control hierarchy, will also help to select safety precautions that should be taken to help reduce the likelihood and impacts of dust combustion. Being aware of the possibility and the dangerous outcomes of a combustible dust event can help ensure employees are more aware of their surroundings and, in turn, work to help them eliminate the hazard and protect themselves against it.

In addition to being aware of combustible dust hazards, taking appropriate measures to reduce the likelihood of a combustible dust incident is an important safety step. This includes maintaining a robust housekeeping plan that regularly vacuums the facility to help eliminate dust buildup. Employing explosion protection and prevention systems along with preventative maintenance programs onsite can also help reduce the likelihood of dust combustion and can mitigate the impacts of an explosion.

As the last line of defense, a flame resistant daily wear program can help protect employees from the thermal impacts of lower pressure deflagration and flash fire events that can be the result of a dust combustion. We outline three benefits of implementing a daily wear program to enhance your safety program against combustible dust hazards.

Provides Continuous Protection

When a daily wear FR/AR PPE program is implemented, employees arrive to work wearing flame resistant garments, which provides them with consistent and ongoing thermal protection. With daily wear FR/AR PPE, the risk of having employees unprotected should an incident occur is greatly reduced. Additionally, a daily wear FR/AR PPE program ensures employees have at least some FR/AR protection throughout the day and provides a solid foundation for additional task-based FR/AR PPE protection, if the task requires it.

It is important to note that daily wear FR/AR garments are most effective against thermal hazards when they are worn properly. Making sure sleeves are rolled down and collars are properly fastened can help provide better protection against thermal hazards. Additionally, the garments must be clean, free from debris and washed according to the manufacturer’s instructions for optimum protection.

The garment should also fit the employee’s specific body type. A dust combustion can impact any exposed or under-protected part of one’s body, so it is important for employees to wear FR/AR PPE that is not too loose or too tight to help mitigate the risk of injury. Ensuring each employee understands the importance of how garments should be worn and how they should fit is integral for an effective FR/AR PPE safety program.

Optimizes Comfort

With advancements in FR/AR fabric technology, daily wear garments are softer and more comfortable than ever. The look and style of garments can closely mimic streetwear and are often almost indistinguishable. Providing a FR/AR PPE garment that offers comfort and protection helps create a want-to-wear FR/AR PPE experience, which can help protect employees from second- or third-degree burns that could have life-threatening consequences.

Additionally, many daily wear FR/AR fabrics offer added performance benefits, including lightweight feel, breathability and moisture-wicking capabilities, which work to further an employee’s comfort throughout the workday. Providing performance fabrics that help keep workers cool and dry may help to reduce the impacts of heat stress in addition to providing a base level of FR/AR protection.

Ensures Key Standards Compliance

The latest edition of NFPA 70E places additional emphasis on accounting for human error in workplace risk assessments. Although this standard is key for electrical safety, the emphasis on human performance and its impact on the hierarchy of risk controls is an important consideration for all workplace hazards. Human nature error precursors including stress, assumption, and complacency can cause employees to neglect donning appropriate task-based FR/AR PPE at the appropriate time and should be addressed in any hazard mitigation program. A FR/AR daily wear program can also help reduce both the likelihood and consequences of human error. FR/AR daily wear acts as a continuous reminder to work safely and don appropriate, task-based PPE as needed, and because daily wear provides some level of body thermal protection, it helps mitigate serious burn injuries should a thermal incident occur.

It is important to note that task-based FR/AR PPE, including gloves and head gear, should always be worn when working directly with known hazards to help prevent injuries. Both daily wear and task-based FR/AR PPE should not be thought of as an impenetrable suit of armor and must always be the last line of defense along with all other safety precautions in the hierarchy taken to reduce the likelihood of a thermal event from happening.

When designing a flame resistant, arc-rated personal protective equipment program to combat against combustible dust and related thermal hazards, remember to choose a reputable FR fabric manufacturer that performs third-party verification testing. This market-proven protection helps result in a robust and trusted safety PPE program for a safer work environment.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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