While catching up on my reading from before the holidays, I ran across a short piece in EHS Today,
which gave a “Top-5 List” of the industries that are most "at risk" for combustible dust explosions. I appreciate these types of articles, and New Year’s lists in general because they are good for raising awareness about important topics and motivating change. As someone in the safety industry, I am most interested in those lists that address the risks found in industry, whether with combustible dust, flammability, orthermal hazards.

“It Doesn’t Apply to Me”

The danger with looking at anyone else's list is that it is easy to take a quick look and infer that the list “does not apply to me”. This happens a lot when dealing with process safety. I have found this to be particularly true of people who are dealing with combustible dusts. Many people assume that only certain industries have ‘real’ problem with their dust. Unfortunately, that is just not the case. In fact, the new NFPA 652 Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust was authored to prevent omissions from occurring when it comes to safe practices with dust.

The reason for this is that formerly, many industries had separate standards governing the risks associated with their dusts. For example, there are standards for agricultural and food companies (NFPA 61), for metals (NFPA 484) and woodworking facilities (NFPA 664).  The diversity of standards made it easy for non-experts to be confused about what the correct approach to hazard mitigation should be.

While there are certainly key differences across industries, the consolidated standard (NFPA 652) reinforces that there are certain best practices to be considered by all companies regardless of the industry or the material being handled. Best practices include testing the specific dust at your facility (even if  published values exist that are ‘close’ to the material at your facility), AND conducting a Dust Hazard Assessment (DHA) to ensure that risks are appropriately addressed.

Avoiding Deadly Resolutions

The example given here focuses on combustible dust, but the principle is true across industries. There are ample best practices found on industry and governmental websites, and there plenty of experts willing to chime in.

As we make our task lists to kick off the new year, let’s make the prevention of severe accidents in ALL industries the first line item on our lists.