Inferno: Dust Explosion at Imperial Sugar

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This is a very instructive video and case study from the US Chemical Safety Board entitled: Inferno - Dust Explosion at Imperial Sugar.  While this video pertains to sugar dust, it applies to most any combustible dust application.  The Imperial Sugar plant used many of the same processes and machinery used in many process industries, such as grinding and milling, belt and screw conveyors, bucket elevators, dust collectors and storage silo's.   

This video explains in detail how process, conveying, dust collection, housekeeping and safety system design, or lack of, all impacted the fires and explosions in this process - that killed 14 workers, injured dozens of others, and shut the plant down for an extended period of time.  This tragedy exposes the critical need in our process industries for inherently safe design along with housekeeping, proper safety systems design and training.

Also, this case study answers the question, "are plant stake holders culpable?"  This video shows that plant managers were well aware of the explosive nature of this combustible dust, and the danger of combustible dust accumulations. 

Do not become complacent.

Risk management is a process. Stakeholders must acquire a basic knowledge of combustible dust hazards, and initiate preventative and mitigation measures using administrative controls and best engineering practices, in order to prevent these type tragedies in other plants and industries.  The primary keys of course, are to assess, evaluate and control hazards. 

Prevention starts with a comprehensive fire prevention policy.  Including transparency in reporting, and follow-up.  Production processes are not static.  Dust testing and systems analysis must be done throughout the process and throughout the lifetime of the process.  Leading indicators must be monitored, and measured for performance. 

Safety starts with education and awareness, but more can be done to manage the hazard of combustible dust.  Starting with Process Hazard Analysis, inherently safer process design and controls, combustible dust awareness training, proper combustible dust housekeeping, maintenance issues relating to combustible dust, safety systems training, fire and evacuation drills, along with properly engineered safety systems.  All are equally important to process safety.

Safety systems include early warning and fire prevention systems like spark detection and suppression or diverters, CO2 monitoring, temperature rate of rise and smoke detection.  Fire protection systems are reactive and may include flame detection, sprinkler, deluge and alarm systems.  Additionally, explosion protection, venting, isolation and suppression systems should also be applied where applicable.

Our American workers are entitled to a safe working environment.  The bottom line: Lets help make sure they get home safely!


  1. Great analysis with examples Jeff.

  2. Thank you John. This is a perfect example of how PSM can be applied to Combustible Dust. Well thought out design, controls, and procedures can make all the difference in the world.


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