Dust hanging in the air may seem to be a natural part of many workplaces. In metal shops, for example, there may be flakes, chunks, fibers or fine particles of metal such as magnesium and aluminum. In construction zones and in many industrial and commercial workplaces, it is also common to find various other dust and fibers hanging in the area, including plastic, wood, coal, rubber, sugar or flour or even paper.
Our Atlanta work accident lawyers know that dust can be dangerous for many reasons including the risks to workers when they breathe in dust particles. One risk that many may not think about, however, is the risk that this dust can be combustible. Although the potential dangers of a combustible dust fire may not be the first thing that you think about as a health concern in a dusty workplace, the danger is very real, and is a common cause of explosive fires in manufacturing settings.
Firefighters and emergency personnel must often confront the risk.
To draw attention to the risks of combustible dust fires and to help ensure that emergency workers are protected, Occupational Safety And Health Administration (OSHA) recently published new information on the issue. This booklet is called Firefighting Precautions at Facilities with Combustible Dust. The booklet is written for an audience of first responders who may find themselves responding to explosions and fires where combustible dust particles are present.
The Dangers of Combustible Dust Explosions
From 1980 through today, there have been more than 780 workers injured in combustible dust explosions and there have been more than 130 workers killed in tragic explosions involving combustible dust.
To prevent further injuries and deaths, OSHA advises that firefighters and other emergency responders should:
- Learn about the dangers of combustible dust through the use of safety data sheets (SDS). Employers of first responders and first responders themselves should consult these sheets to learn what types of materials can result in combustible dust. Knowing when an environment is likely to have such dust is very important to those responding to or fighting a fire.
- Conduct pre-incident reviews. Pre-incident reviews are appropriate when an environment or facility is very likely to produce combustible dust. A pre-incident review would involve an inspection of high-risk facilities so that emergency responders will know in advance about the conditions that they might find when a fire or explosion does occur.
Employers in workplaces where combustible dust may be produced also bear certain responsibilities in order to keep first responders safe. The use of a dust protection system, for example, is advised not just to help ensure workers avoid breathing dangerous dust on a regular basis but also to protect first responders. A dust protection system might include abort gates as well as relief vents if it is to protect first responders since these solutions make it possible for burning materials or pressure to be directed out of confined areas. A detection and suppression system may also be advisable.
If employers and first responders are able to understand the risks and take responsibility to ensure that those risks are minimized, fewer people will be injured or killed as a result of combustible dust.