The issue of combustible dust and its associated hazards (fire, deflagration, explosion) has always existed throughout several industries in one form or another. However, it is only recently that the topic of combustible dust has become one of the main concerns and focal points in safety and health. In the past, most safety and health professionals perceived combustible dust hazards as low priority and low risk. However, this perception vastly changed after several high-profile combustible dust accidents/fatalities and increased enforcement of combustible dust hazards by the Occupational Safety and health Administration (OSHA).
In the last ten years, several highly publicized combustible dust accidents and fatalities have occurred including, but not limited to the following incidents:
On January 29, 2003, an explosion and fire destroyed the West Pharmaceutical Services plant in Kinston, North Carolina, causing six deaths, dozens of injuries, and hundreds of job losses. The facility produced rubber stoppers and other products for medical use. The fuel for the explosion was a fine plastic powder, which accumulated above a suspended ceiling over a manufacturing area at the plant and ignited.
On February 20, 2003, an explosion and fire damaged the CTA Acoustics manufacturing plant in Corbin, Kentucky, fatally injuring seven workers. The facility produced fiberglass insulation for the automotive industry. CSB investigators have found that the explosion was fueled by resin dust accumulated in a production area, likely ignited by flames from a malfunctioning oven. The resin involved was a phenolic binder used in producing fiberglass mats.
On the evening of October 29, 2003, a series of explosions severely burned two workers, injured a third, and caused property damage to the Hayes Lemmerz manufacturing plant in Huntington, Indiana. One of the severely burned men subsequently died. The Hayes Lemmerz plant manufactures cast aluminum automotive wheels, and the explosions were fueled by accumulated aluminum dust, a flammable byproduct of the wheel production process.