Combustible dust can be an explosive hazard

Highly explosive combustible dust is an ever present threat at many workplaces in North Carolina. Small changes made to manufacturing processes can lead to volatile clouds of dust being produced, and these clouds have been known to destroy entire buildings when they explode. According to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 281 workplace accidents involving combustible dust between 1980 and 2005 killed 119 workers and injured a further 718.

Combustible dust is particularly dangerous because it can sit undisturbed for years waiting for the right atmospheric conditions. According to OSHA, any combustible material can be hazardous when finely divided and suspended in the air. The safety agency also points out that even substances that are not flammable, such as iron or aluminum, can become explosive if the right conditions are present. Industries at particular risk for combustible dust accidents include metal working, chemical processing and pharmaceutical production.

Preventing these accidents involves keeping accurate measurements of atmospheric conditions and ensuring that ventilation machinery is functional and maintained properly. OSHA says that it is working toward rules for combustible dust, and the National Fire Protection Association published a combustible dust standard to assist plant managers in 2015.

Workers injured in a combustible dust accident may suffer catastrophic injuries that prevent them from being able to earn a living for prolonged periods. The North Carolina workers' compensation program is designed to provide financial assistance to those who have been injured or developed an illness while on the job, but the application process is far from simple. Attorneys with experience in this area could explain the various workers' compensation benefits available and the kinds of medical evidence that should be submitted along with a claim.

Source: OSHA, "Combustible Dust: An Explosion Hazard", accessed on Oct. 24, 2015

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