The issue of combustible dust and its associated hazards (i.e., fire, deflagration and explosion) has existed for hundreds of years, throughout numerous industries in the United States and abroad. When combustible dust fires and explosions occur, they tend to be catastrophic. However, due to their complexity, combustible dust hazards are frequently overlooked and incorrectly perceived as low priority and low risk. After several high-profile accidents and fatalities, as well as increased enforcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) (e.g., fire marshals/departments, insurance firms/carriers, etc.), each facility has been forced to reexamine their perception of the combustible dust hazards.
As can be observed from so many of the investigation findings of previous combustible dust incidents, employers and employees appear to be unaware of the hazards posed by combustible particulate solids that have the potential to form combustible dusts when processed, stored or handled. Thus, the Dust Hazards Analysis (DHA) was recently created to identify and combat the potential hazards associated with combustible dusts and combustible particulate solids. Although all the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) combustible dust standards now retroactively require a DHA to be performed, the importance of a DHA goes far beyond just a requirement. When performed correctly, a DHA not only thoroughly identifies and assesses complex combustible dust hazards, but also provides specific techniques to mitigate these hazards. Unfortunately, all DHAs are not created equal, and all too often, DHAs misidentify or ignore potentially serious fire and explosion hazards (especially DHAs performed by unqualified individuals or entities).