Is My Dust Combustible? A Roadmap to better dust explosion understanding

Dust and powders have the potential to pose major risks. This may manifest as flash fires, fires or a combustible dust explosion.

Many industries handle combustible dust as their primary product, and many more use combustible materials as a by-product of their production.

Manufacturing and processing organizations must therefore do extensive dust testing and be aware of the risks that a dust explosion can pose.

What is a combustible dust?

Any substance that has the potential to become dispersed and suspended through the air as a dust cloud, ignite, and explode when exposed to an ignition source is considered to be combustible dust and may create an explosion hazard.

Materials that are in the physical states of powders, flakes, fines, fibres, etc. may be included in combustible dust. Most solid organics (e.g. sugar, flour, grain, and wood), carbonaceous (charcoal, soot, coal), textile fibres (cotton), metals, and some non-metallic inorganic elements are all examples of combustible dusts.

Those that may not “normally” be combustible, can burn or explode if the dust particles are at the right size and concentration.

When mixed with oxygen, these fine particles can ignite when coming into contact with an ignition source i.e. a spark, metal ember. The propensity of the hazard is primarily associated with the particle size distribution or fineness of the powder – this dust material can be dispersed in air readily creating an explosive atmosphere. 

Such flammable atmospheres may occur as they are sensitive to ignition either by sparks (electrostatic or mechanical) or hot surfaces.

Am I Susceptible to Combustible Dust Explosions?

Whether you’re just getting started with combustible dust safety or have had a policy in place for some time, it’s important to remember that there is the potential for major risks to your processes via combustible dust explosions.

Techniques to mitigate the risk of fire and dust explosion incidents in the workplace rely on robust testing data. The explosive properties of combustible dust cannot be calculated, they must be tested in appropriate laboratory equipment according to appropriate standards.

Organisations must take preventative action to maintain safety in the workplace. If you handle dusts or powders, you must ensure that the design of protection systems (venting, containment, or suppression) is appropriate, or confirm if a material is appropriate for use in processes within an established protection system.

Testing can make up a significant part of the Dust Hazard Analysis (DHA), which is required by the NFPA 652 Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust and its related NFPA 654 Standard for the Prevention of Fire and Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing, and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids.

Using the Roadmap

An organisation wide road mapping process can help you bring your business safety goals front and centre for everyone (from owners to operational staff) to understand and act on.

This combustible dust roadmap is a representation of a strategic thought process. It should get all staff to start questioning what can and should be done to prevent a combustible dust explosion and other dust related hazards.

Download your FREE combustible dust roadmap

Fill out the form below to get your copy of our roadmap, and find out how your business can prevent dust explosions by testing for combustible and hazardous properties.

Sigma-HSE is an internationally recognised process safety company with ISO/IEC 17025 accredited testing laboratories. We provide fire and dust explosion data and our expertise covers a range of process safety solutions (testing, consultancy, training).

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