Combustible dust is created anytime materials are transported, processed, or handled. When these dust particles are dispersed in the right concentration to form a dust cloud in a confined space, an ignition is possible, creating a fire hazard.

These five industries include activity that’s known to create combustible dust and should be investigated for risk in order to determine the possible risk.

1. Food Production

It’s hard to believe, but many agricultural products can become combustible under the right conditions. Egg whites, powdered milk, cornstarch, sugar, flour, grains, potatoes, and rice dust all carry a risk of combustion.

Workers in the agricultural industry should be aware of the inherent risk of handling, transporting, and storing these products. Only work in a well-ventilated area, keep work areas clean and dust free and ensure all employees are properly trained on safe work processes.

2. Chemical Manufacturing

When combustible dust ignites, there are often two explosions, known as primary and secondary. The pressure of these explosions, combined with the heat of the flame, create a fire hazard that can destroy walls, or even entire structures.

Chemical manufacturing workers should ensure all work surfaces are kept clean and dust-free using vacuums, not brooms or compressed air hoses, to minimize the potential for creating a combustible dust cloud, which can ignite. A workplace risk assessment can determine what risks are possible and whether or not FR clothing is necessary. Regular assessments ensure the work area remains safe.

3. Woodworking

The woodworking industry creates a lot of dust. Constant cutting, grinding, sanding, and polishing can fill a workshop with combustible sawdust. It’s important to keep woodworking areas clean while working – housekeeping is a vital step to prevent fire hazards.

Inspect machinery prior to each use to alleviate risk of machinery sparking and igniting dust. After using machinery, remove all dust from the area before beginning work again.

4. Metal Processing

Metalworkers have an increased risk because cutting, grinding, and sanding metal parts will often produce a spark. It’s absolutely vital to keep work areas clean, minimize the potential of creating dust clouds, and only allow qualified workers with proper safety training and equipment to work directly with metal.

Fully ventilate areas, and ensure all pipes and cables are covered. Developing a hot work permit system and ignition control program can help prevent the risks associated with combustible dust from metalworking.

5. Recycling Facilities

Recycling facilities process a wide array of materials. All the sorting, processing, handling, and transporting increase the risk of combustible dust explosion. Be sure all machinery is in good repair, and regularly inspect for heat or spark to prevent dust combustion.

What makes combustible dust so dangerous is that it can be unassuming. Many materials that aren’t normally considered combustible can create dust that can ignite and explode if the particles are the right size and in the right concentration, when suspended into the air. OSHA created a handy chart listing materials that can create combustible dust if you work in one of these five industries.