When it comes to mitigating hazards in the workplace, we often think of the obvious – securing hazardous materials, using safety equipment, and following safety procedures and protocols – however we tend to forget how dangerous the small things can be. Dust, in particular, has the potential to be one of the most hazardous and deadly dangers within the work place, especially in places like lumber yards, saw mills, paper mills, and grain processing plants.
Why dust? In addition to being a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant and causing a slew of potential health problems for workers who come in contact with it, dust is one of the most dangerous, if unassuming fire hazards present within the workplace, due to its volatility when combined with a variety of environmental factors, including dispersion of dust, space in which dust is confined, oxygen supply, and source of ignition. When these conditions are in place, deadly fires and flashovers can occur with little to no warning, spreading rapidly throughout the workplace while easily growing in size. Combustible dust explosions are of particular concern, because of the ease with which they can occur, and because of their ability to trigger secondary explosions.
Luckily, the hazards associated with dust can be easily prevented and protected against through good housekeeping practices and safety measures. The best way to prevent a dust-combustion fire is to keep dust to a minimum. While this may seem difficult depending on the nature of industry and the source of dust, the effort it takes to clean and prevent dust is far less than the effort required to recover from a fire, especially when workers are put at risk. In addition to dust mitigation efforts, it is important to have a standard protocol in place for dealing with dust fires or dust related hazards, should they arise, including ensuring proper fire evacuation procedures, and running emergency drills.
While dust will always be a hazard, it does not always need to lead to disaster. By educating yourself and employees on the dangers of dust, and by training yourself and your workers in dust mitigation techniques, you can safely and easily minimize the impact of dust on your business.