When listing explosive materials at a workplace, it’s easy to leave dust out of the discussion. However, airborne particulates from organic and metal materials have the potential to cause devastating explosions. Industrial plants that handle food, tobacco, textiles, pesticides, and fossil fuels are just a few of the locations where dust explosions have been Aknown to happen. Because dust explosions can happen at facilities that don’t handle volatile substances, their occurrence can be as surprising to workers as they are devastating.
What Causes Dust Explosions?
Dust explosions occur when three critical components combine. When the perfect combination of dust and oxygen meets an ignition source, a devastating explosion will occur. As dust particles float through the air of industrial sites, they sometimes form a dense enough concentration to become explosive. Legislators and regulators have created numerous laws through the years that put strict requirements on companies to protect workers from dust explosions.
Factories that accumulate dust should have adequate dust collection systems. These systems filter dust from the air before it settles in one location. Sometimes, dust explosions occur due to the accumulation of the substance in a location that out of sight or reach. Employers must ensure that their dust collection systems are functioning and adequately filtering their workplace.
How Common Are Dust Explosions?
Despite regulation efforts from OSHA, dust explosions are still a problem in the United States. A recent study from Purdue University found that most agricultural dust explosions are preventable, yet they still happen at concerning rates. Professor Kingsly Ambrose, an agricultural and biological engineering professor at Purdue, tracks dust explosions at grain sites across the United States. Ambrose stresses that these accidents are preventable, cost millions, and change lives.
“When the grain is getting handled or processed, dust gets separated and suspended in the air and settles around the facility,” Ambrose said. “If there is an ignition generating spark, maybe due to the malfunction of a machine, friction or an electrical failure can ignite the dust. Although the primary explosion might be quite small, due to the amount of existing dust, the secondary explosions can be catastrophic,” Ambrose commented.
Notable Dust Explosions
In 2008, an Imperial Sugar refinery exploded in Port Wentworth, Georgia. The blast claimed the lives of 14 people and injured 36 more. Investigators determined that sugar dust caused the explosion. The incident was one of the worst in the nation’s history. It is believed that the refinery’s outdated construction allowed an unsafe accumulation of sugar dust in the air. This incident caused OSHA to develop new standards for testing for combustible dust.
In 2014, a Georgia-Pacific plywood plant exploded when particulates ignited. The incident killed two workers and injured four others. Arnold & Itkin’s dust explosion attorneys were able to build a strong case for our client who was injured in the blast. Our lawyers showed the Georgia-Pacific failed to provide a functioning dust collection system, winning a significant verdict on his behalf.
How to Prevent Dust Explosions
Dust explosions place thousands of industrial workers at risk each year. OSHA has developed a set of recommendations that employers should follow to protect their employees. Dust explosions are always preventable, and employers must take every step to ensure that they do not happen.
Ways to prevent dust explosions include:
- Dust hazard inspections
- Dust collection systems
- Controlled ignition sources
- Regular and safe cleaning
- Notify employees
- Worker education
If you have been injured in a dust explosion at work, contact the industrial accident attorneys at Arnold & Itkin today. We've won billions for clients and offer free consultations for those who reach out to us at (888) 493-1629.