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Workers at risk from combustible dust

September 20, 2015

The Kentucky Department of Labor states that the potential of explosion from combustible dust is a threat to the safety and health of many Kentucky workers. The danger is not limited to just a single industry, but affects a broad section of the state’s workforce.


There are three environmental conditions required for a dust explosion. First, there must be a sufficient quantity and concentration of dust. Next, some heat source must be present to heat the dust or set it on fire. Lastly, there must be oxygen in the air. Dangerous dust can accumulate because a duct is damaged, or it may simply disperse from an open container. Some of the industries in which a fatal or injurious explosion due to dust can occur include the following:


  •        Tobacco processing
  •        Grain storage, such as bins, silos, and elevators
  •        Coal processing
  •        Chemical manufacturing
  •        Flour mills
  •        Plastics manufacturing


An initial explosion can cause combustible dust to disperse, leading to additional blow-ups that can be devastating to both structures and people. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests proper facility maintenance, hazard recognition and investigation into previous fires as ways to avoid a fatal workplace accident.


Dust explosions can happen quickly and with catastrophic results. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that the flame from a dust cloud ignition can reach 1000 degrees F, and that even brief contact with heat of that intensity can cause severe burns. Kentucky workers in industries that generate any kind of fine powder should be aware of the hazards of combustible dust.