Food processing plants are vital to our nation’s food supply, but they also come with severe hazards, like combustible dust. In our breakdown, we’ll explain what combustible dust is, how it affects the food processing industry, and strategies for preventing and mitigating risk.
What Is Combustible Dust?
As you may guess, combustible dust poses a fire and explosive hazard as combustible material. OSHA defines combustible dust as solid material composed of distinct particles of any shape, size, or chemical composition.
Combustible dust becomes a flash fire or explosive hazard when suspended in the air. If this dust nears a heat or electrical source, it can quickly and explosively ignite and threaten nearby workers and the entire facility.
How Does Combustible Dust Threaten Food Processing Plants?
Combustible dust hazards are commonly found in food processing plants because most combustible dust comes from food products such as:
- Grain dust
Any food processing plants that produce one or more of these food items every day will naturally contain the risk of combustible dust. And it’s been a severe hazard in food plants for a long time—OSHA has recorded over 100 deaths and 700 injuries to food processing workers from 1980-2005 in the U.S.
What can be done to mitigate these risks and protect workers and food processing plants?
How Do Food Processing Plants Manage Combustible Dust Risk?
Environmental Safety Analysis & Training
There are many safety strategies that food processing plants will undertake, including undergoing lab testing and dust hazard analysis. Many food plants will use research labs to analyze the dust and powders found in the facility to determine their combustibility and hazard risk.
Food plants will also conduct a dust hazard analysis, which is required by NFPA 652 and is a systematic review to identify and evaluable combustible dust elements. With this information, food plants can create useful safety strategies and extensive training and safety policies for their employees.
Worker Personal Protective Equipment
All the training and evaluation are vital to a safe working environment, but as we mentioned, flash fires and explosions can still occur and harm workers—which is why personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial. With airborne hazards like combustible dust, a fire or explosion can happen instantly, so workers always need to be protected.
To always keep workers safe, fire-resistant (FR) gear and clothing is essential, like FR shirts, FR jeans, FR overalls, and so on. They’re the last line of defense against combustible dust and could be the difference between minor injuries and severe burns.