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Determining the Right Level of Protection for Combustible Dust Hazards

MARTIN CLOUTHIER, MSc, PEng + LUC CORMIER, MEng, PEng

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Aug 15, 2019

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the combustible dust explosion at an automotive parts supply factory in eastern China, which killed 75 people and injured nearly 200 more. This event serves as a reminder that combustible dust remains a serious workplace threat throughout the world.

One way to avoid these tragic explosions is to better understand your dust hazard. By testing the dust at your facility, you can confirm whether your dust has the potential to cause an explosion, as well as the severity parameters such as how violently the dust will react and sensitivity parameters including how easily the dust is ignited. However, the presence of a combustible material doesn’t necessarily mean that you are at risk for a dust explosion. There are 5 elements required for a deflagration or explosion hazard:

  1. Combustible Dust in an Ignitable Concentration
  2. An Ignition Source
  3. Oxygen
  4. Dust Dispersion
  5. Confinement

Once you have the results, what is the next step? And how can you be sure you have the proper level of protection? While combustible dust testing is an invaluable step in characterizing the dusts within your facility, a Dust Hazard Analysis (DHA) ensures that combustible dust hazards are appropriately identified with a plan in place to support mitigation.

Although combustible materials are being handled in many cases that cross our path, that doesn’t always mean that there is an explosion hazard. For instance, a facility might be configured to protect the facility and personnel—by establishing operating conditions that prevent ignitable concentrations of dust, or by demonstrating that the dust as handled cannot be ignited by the potential ignition sources that are present. In such cases, the DHA process is a critical tool in helping to make the case for exclusion of explosion protection systems that would otherwise be required.

In the opposite scenario, having a DHA can help identify the deflagration or explosion hazards that would otherwise not be identified and potentially go unmitigated. Even highly trained individuals can lack awareness of combustible dust hazards or underestimate the amount of risk. The lack of information of the combustible dust hazard is likely the leading reason why we still hear of combustible dust explosions like the one in China, only a few years ago.

Not all DHAs are created equal. Although industry experience is a valuable tool for identifying where hazards may exist, having qualified consultants assess the process-specific hazards on a case-by-case basis is the best method to ensure all hazards presented by combustible dusts are adequately identified and mitigated. Engaging an experienced consultant to perform a customized on-site DHA will give you the highest degree of certainty that that the selected means of protection are appropriate for the hazards present, and that the recommended remedial actions are aligned with the hazard and prioritized within your operating and capital budgets.

Our consultants draw on their extensive industry experience and knowledge of historical incidents as well as sound engineering principles to determine whether credible hazards are present.

Learn more about our dust safety services here.