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Local Dust Explosion: What can we learn?

27 May 2015

A local incident close to us highlighted the need to make sure dust containers are managed correctly to reduce the chance of explosion. In early March, a Sheffield based door manufacturing facility had a machinery fire that was attended by the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. Whilst tackling this fire, there were two consecutive explosions, resulting in a further fire. According to the station manager, dust was responsible for the two explosions. The factory has a sawdust extraction unit, removing dust to large hoppers outside, where the explosions occurred. Luckily there were no injuries and the fire service acted swiftly enough to prevent the fire spreading to other areas of the site. Even so, the incident involved 30 firefighters and five engines and took around five hours to deal with.

While dust explosions are unusual, large amounts of dust mixed with oxygen in a confined space can combust. This incident highlights the need for good dust management, especially with the risks involved. If the fire service hadn’t already been in attendance, this could have been much worse, potentially causing catastrophic damage and costing the business dearly.

If you work in an environment that requires dust containers, it is important to assess the risks involved. The first step is to identify the hazards, including potential ignition sources. Then, you would consider who might be harmed and how. In this incident, fire spread to a nearby building from one of the hopper explosions, further spreading the hazards and risks. The next step would be to evaluate those risks and decide on precautions. As the outcomes of dust explosions are severe, measures must be taken to prevent explosions and mitigate the effects.

One of the things you can do to manage the risk is to monitor dust levels to make sure they don’t pose a risk of explosion. Ensuring you have the correct type of particulate monitor can help you to keep track of your dust levels and even notify you if dust concentrations exceed a pre-determined level to give you plenty of notice to solve the problem before an explosive atmosphere is created.

Following this, your precautionary measures should be recorded and communicated to all staff. You should make sure that all relevant people are aware of what they need to do and competent to carry out their jobs in a way that minimizes the risks that you have identified. And finally, make sure you review your risk assessment and make any changes as necessary. If you have installed particulate monitors, review the data collected. If you are regularly receiving alarms or approaching those per-determined levels, you may want to look at what else you can do to reduce your explosion risk.

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