Are You Effectively Managing Your Combustible Dust Hazards on a Global Scale?

Jeremy Lebowitz, PE

Identifying consistent safeguards for combustible dust hazards for each of your unique facilities.

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Managing combustible dust risks is a top-of-mind issue for many global manufacturers. Let’s say you’re aware of the dust hazards produced within your facilities and you know that you need to establish fire and explosion protection measures to protect life, property and business continuity. But, with multiple facilities in various countries, how do you identify consistent safeguards when each facility may have unique considerations?

Current Hazard-based Approaches

Traditionally, there have been two main approaches to mitigating dust explosion hazards. The prescriptive approach is intended to be conservative and broadly applicable. It doesn’t take into account site-specific factors, such as facilities processes, ignition sources or occupant probability. The other approach, performance-based hazard protection, focuses on what must be done, rather than on how it should be done. This approach requires a detailed understanding of the process-operating conditions and protections. It's usually applied on a case-by-case basis.

Applying Risk-based Tools

Risk-based approaches to managing combustible dust have gradually gained ground. These methodologies expand the bounds of the code framework to gauge whether the likelihood and consequence of a combustible dust related event (fire or explosion) compare favorably to acceptable risk levels. In other words, is the facility configured such that the risk of injury from your employee driving to work is the same as the risk of injury when she operates combustible dust handling equipment? Manufacturers can be confident in the answer by using customized risk analysis tools. A sophisticated model, accounting for common variables like uptime, product throughput, and existing protection measures, allows the owner to fine tune which protections will optimize risk-reduction measures. In some cases, the analysis may also determine that no further safeguards are necessary in situations where risk is already low. Importantly, a facility can demonstrate where their capital expenditures will yield the greatest risk reduction, and which “protective” systems don’t meaningfully reduce risk.

Scalable risk analysis tools are robust enough to capture variation for facilities in multiple countries, but concise enough to be deployed from a single database. They can help global corporations reduce exposures in line with industry risk thresholds, without having to meet the prescriptive measures of the NFPA standards.

Interested in applying this method to your enterprise? You may benefit from a risk-based model if your company can answer “yes” to these questions:

  • Are your combustible dusts generally consistent and have you tested samples?
  • Is your process information well documented?
  • Do you have a high cost of prescriptive compliance?
  • Does your industry, or specific equipment, have a relatively low loss history?
  • Is there minor variability across your enterprise?

Our team of combustible dust experts can help provide answers and potential dust hazard mitigation solutions to help you make informed decisions that protect and safeguard staff and properties. Learn more about our combustible dust safety solutions.

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