What is "combustible dust"?

by - October 21, 2009

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is taking steps to develop standards that will address combustible dust in the workplace. Now if you're like me, you have no idea what combustible dust is or its significance. So today I'm dedicating my blog to this mysterious dust (which you can't always see apparently) and why it's so important to the U.S. Department of Labor.

According to OSHA's website, any type of combustible material can burn rapidly when it is in a finely divided form, i.e. dust. If the material(s) is suspended in the air in the right concentration, it can become explosive.

There is a multitude of different materials that can form this combustible dust including:

  • metals like aluminum and magnesium
  • wood
  • coal
  • plastics
  • biosolids
  • sugar
  • paper
  • soap
  • dried blood, and
  • certain textiles
Hazards can be present in several industries, including:
  • food
  • grain
  • tobacco
  • plastics
  • wood
  • paper
  • pulp
  • rubber
  • furniture
  • textiles
  • pesticides
  • pharmaceuticals
  • dyes
  • coal
  • metals, and
  • fossil fuel power generators
More than 130 workers have died and more than 780 have been injured in combustible dust explosions since 1980. Last year there was an explosion at Imperial Sugar in Port Wentworth, Georgia, that killed 14 people. In many of these explosions, employees have said they weren't even aware there was any danger. U.S. Secretary of Labor Linda Solis says it's time for workers to stop dying in these preventable explosions.

OSHA will be publishing its proposed rules in the today's edition of the Federal Register. They want comments from the public in the form of suggestions for controlling combustible dust in the workplace. They are allowing 90 days for these comments and suggestions to be offered.

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