According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than 130 workers have been killed and more than 780 injured since 1980 as a result of combustible dust explosions. Our Charlotte work injury attorneys know that many of those injured as a result of combustible dust are emergency workers or first responders, especially firefighters.
First responders and others working in environments where explosions may occur have inherently dangerous jobs. Following OSHA guidelines to try to protect these workers and to make these risky jobs safer is absolutely essential.
OSHA Tips on Avoiding Combustible Dust Explosions
The OSHA Office of Communications announced at the start of April in a News Release that a new informative booklet had been published catering to first responders and establishing safe procedures for dealing with combustible dust.
OSHA's booklet is called "Firefighter Precautions at Facilities with Combustible Dust," but the booklet can also be useful for any workers who might potentially be exposed to the dust particles that can cause a fire or explosion when suspended in air.
OSHA explains that combustible dusts consist of a number of different types of dust particles that are most prone to igniting. For example, combustible dust may consist of: fiber, flakes, fine particles or chunks of material including:
Metals, such as magnesium and aluminum
All of these materials are very common at many workplaces ranging from commercial bakeries to construction sites to the factory room floor. Unfortunately, as OSHA points out, almost any solid material in fine dust form that burns can be exploded. What happens is, the combustible dust in the air in the factory or worksite will become ignited. As a result, a flash fire can occur. A flash fire is described as a sudden, high-pressure fireball that spreads quickly.
Multiple firefighters have been killed by these fireballs that spring up as a result of the dangerous dust hanging in the area. To avoid this, OSHA suggests:
- Pre-incident reviews. In facilities that are highly likely to produce combustible dust, an inspection might be appropriate to ensure that emergency responders are aware of the conditions they would find in an emergency situation.
- Consulting with safety data sheets (SDS)- These sheets should be an important source of basic information about the different types of materials in the combustible dust.
- Using appropriate protection systems. In workplaces with significant dust hazards, OSHA advises the use of various protection systems including relief vents or abort gates. These would allow for pressure or burning materials to be directed outside of confined areas. High-speed detection and suppression systems can also be used to avoid the risks of combustible dust explosions.