Safety Insight - The Hidden Danger of Combustible Dust Fire, Flash Fire and Explosion Events

Dec 20, 2022
Dust fires, flash fires and explosions have several significant consequences including multiple fatalities, personal injury, and business interruption. Many are familiar with the catastrophic Imperial Sugar dust explosion event that occurred in Port Wentworth, GA in 2008 and its deadly aftermath. The results of the Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) investigation were distributed throughout the world causing some to immediately assess the potential for a similar event in their facilities. However, some organizations reviewed the details of the Imperial Sugar incident and mistakenly arrived at conclusions that still have them as risk. One such incorrect conclusion; “My production and dust producing processes take place in an open-air environment there is no way I could have a significant event”.
2008 Georgia, USA | 14 killed, 48 injured | Sugar Dust
The deadly flash fire in Taiwan (2015) provided evidence that even when there is no confinement, deadly flash fire will result when dust concentrations approach the Minimum Explosible Concentration (MEC) and contact an ignition source.
2015 Taiwan | 15 killed, 497 injured | Corn Starch
Confinement is the only difference between a dust explosion and flash fire. Both hazards, along with fire potential, must be addressed as part of a complete Dust Hazard Analysis.

As a manufacturing process owner/operator, you must ask yourself these questions if you work with any combustible bulk solids:

  • How bad can it be? Classify the dust through testing. At a minimum, you want to know your dust’s Minimum Ignition Energy (MIE), Minimum Explosible Concentration (MEC) and Deflagration Index (Kst).
  • What can go wrong? Analyze process conditions through DHA. A complete and comprehensive DHA will identify aspects of you process that have the potential to create negative impacts on employee health and safety and business continuity.
  • Can the risk be managed? Implement Controls to manage dust fires and explosions. There are two risk mitigation options; Prescriptive and Performance Based. All decisions on which approach should be taken to mitigate risks are determined through testing and a Dust Hazard Analysis
  • Who needs to know? Knowledge is power. Share this information with workers!
CONTACT US to learn more about our Combustible Dust Hazard Consulting Services.