6 Ways to Prevent Fires and Dust Explosions in Offices and Factories

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Modern safety standards and technology have greatly reduced the risk of workplace accidents. However, precautionary measures are still necessary to avoid disasters such as the 2008 dust explosion which killed 13 people and injured 42 others at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Georgia.

What causes fires and dust explosions?

Dust fires and explosions are deadly threats. Dust is extremely combustible and even normally non-flammable substances present a hazard in particulate form due to their increased surface area per volume. These particles, whether sugar, wood, metal or another material, are common in all industries, including food production, machining, recycling and manufacturing of synthetic materials.

Fortunately, good planning and preventive action through some of the following strategies can help prevent these calamities.

1) Limit “Fire Triangle” and “Dust Explosion Pentagon”.

The “Fire Triangle” details the three elements necessary for a fire: a combustible material such as dust, an oxidizer provided by oxygen in the air and an ignition source such as heat, an open flame, electricity static or spark.

The danger is exacerbated by the two additional elements that complete the pentagon and turn a fire into a dust explosion. These two elements are the dispersion of dust particles in the air and the potential confinement of the cloud of particles inside a small room or enclosure.

2) According to the old quote, “an ounce of prevention is better than cure”.

One of the best ways to prevent dust fires is to ensure dust does not escape into the environment. This dust capture and collection system must be officially and properly approved, installed and maintained to ensure safe conditions.

Especially since any explosion or commotion will send dust into the air. Airborne dust can then ignite and cause a secondary explosion which can be exponentially larger.

3) Pay attention to detail and follow good housekeeping practices.

Diligence is an integral part of equipment and procedures. Keeping a clean work area can significantly limit the hazard through proper maintenance methods, such as cleaning all spaces, including those that are hidden or hard to reach, such as air ducts or the interior of machinery.

In addition, the use of specialized vacuum cleaners, ventilation technology, appropriate filters and strict control and inspection procedures are essential because it does not take much to start a fire or an explosion. A closed part with only 5% of its surface covered by a layer of dust barely 1/32nd of an inch thick presents a hazard if this dust becomes airborne or ignites.

4) Know the danger signs.

Knowledge is a crucial element of due diligence. Workers need to know what to look out for and perform routine inspections, promoting optimal vigilance and a culture of safety. It is necessary to train new employees to identify and manage potential threats before they become problems. Facilities should regularly review these guidelines to educate workers on proper safety protocols and to avoid or report unsafe practices.

5) Use damage control protocols.

Offices, factories and other facilities can employ damage control strategies by separating threats (dust, possible ignition sources) by distance, barriers or both. Facilities should also provide effective deflagration ventilation for buildings and decompression ventilation for machinery. In addition, extinguishing systems, sprinklers and other suppression techniques, as well as spark or ember detectors, can prevent or lessen the danger.

6) Minimize the risk of ignition.

Machinery should be inspected as meticulously as the work area. Maintenance can save lives by ensuring the proper functioning and maintenance of machinery, faulty components are a common source of ignition. Safety protocols to control and avoid static electricity can also prevent ignition, as can separating equipment and heat from areas that generate or accumulate dust.

A little effort and attention can bring a lot of security

No industry is without risk. But with advancements in safety, conscious habits, and attention to detail, a facility and its employees can minimize those risks and ensure the greatest possible safety.

Image Credit: Nixx Photography / Shutterstock.com

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