Environmental & Safety Blog


Many people consider dust to be a part of life and don't think about the potential consequences of dust accumulation. However, dust can be deadly if the circumstances are right. Since 1980, over 100 workers have been killed and over 700 injured due to combustible dust fires and explosions in general industry.   OSHA has recently begun citing under Section 5(a)(1), as a "Willfull" type of violation for allowing employees to be exposed to fire and explosion hazards when processing Class II combustible dusts.
Combustible dust is a combustible particulate solid that presents a fire or deflagration hazard when suspended in air. Not all combustible dust is obvious. Some types of dust that can be combustible are:
  • Wood
  • Food
  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Sugar
  • Inorganic
A buildup of dust in a facility can cause a deflagration, which is when dust particles build up pressure and suddenly explode, usually resulting in a fire. Before a deflagration can occur:
  • Dust has to be combustible AND
  • Dust has to be dispersed in the air AND
  • There has to be an ignition source
Reducing dust accumulation is an important part of protecting employees and facility resources.  Dust control measures include, but are not limited to:
  • Use dust collection systems
  • Inspect the facility regularly
  • Clean dust at regular intervals
  • Develop and implement a written program for basic housekeeping in the facility
Combustible dust has been added to the training requirements of OSHA's revised Hazard Communication. OSHA has not provided a definition for combustible dust to the final HCS given ongoing activities in the specific rule-making, as well as in the United Nations Sub-Committee of Experts on the GHS (UN/SCEGHS). However, guidance is being provided through existing documents, including the Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program Directive CPL 03-00-008, which includes an operative definition, as well as providing information about current responsibilities in this area. In addition, there are a number of voluntary industry consensus standards (particularly those of the NFPA) that address combustible dust.

In the final HCS, combustible dust hazards must be addressed on labels and SDSs. Label elements are provided for combustible dust in the final HCS and include the signal word "warning" and the hazard statement "May form combustible dust concentrations in the air".
Although OSHA did not provide a definition in the new standard, they have provided guidance in many of their documents, which allows the employer to determine what housekeeping, work practice and training is required.


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