‘Multiple perspectives’: CSB releases first ‘learning review’ on combustible dust

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Photo: U.S. Chemical Safety Board

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

Washington — Managing and controlling combustible dust should be considered a unique hazard – not simply “tidying up the place,” the Chemical Safety Board says in a recently released learning review document that includes input from workers and industry stakeholders.

Prepared by Dynamic Inquiry LLC on behalf of the agency, the 47-page document compiles feedback solicited by CSB in a Call to Action – issued in October 2018 – stemming from a May 2017 explosion and fire that killed five workers and injured 14 others at the Didion Milling Co. facility in Cambria, WI. The agency sought comments on the management, control and understanding of combustible dust.

“This learning review represents a new method for the CSB to examine an incident,” CSB Chair and CEO Katherine Lemos said in a Sept. 10 press release. “The outcome of this specific review provides an opportunity for dust hazards to be examined from multiple perspectives, which may allow for a greater understanding of preexisting assumptions and scenarios.”

CSB said it found that more efficient sharing of information between companies, industries and regulators – facilitated openly and without fear of punishment and reprisal – was the stakeholders’ most sought-after goal. Numerous respondents to the Call to Action indicated that a possible normalization of the risk contributed to the ongoing difficulty of keeping facilities dust-free.

Additionally, the document renews CSB’s long-standing call for OSHA to issue a standard on combustible dust. CSB identified 386 combustible dust incidents from 1980 to 2017 that resulted in 178 fatalities and more than 1,000 injuries.

Other recommendations for controlling and mitigating combustible dust hazards include:

  • Develop standards to certify dust collection system manufacturers, installation and training.
  • Advance psychological safety within organizations to improve the willingness of personnel to provide information and ask questions.
  • Explore ways to promote effective communication within and between facilities, including eliminating language barriers. “Even the words used to describe combustible dust can introduce vulnerabilities to the system,” the report states.
  • Acknowledge that training doesn’t always ensure learning. Create experiential and collaborative learning methods within facilities.
  • Establish an online forum and/or a “lessons learned center,” which allows the community to explore combustible dust issues and share feedback.

“CSB hopes that this product provides further insight and understanding of combustible dust hazards,” Lemos said. “Our goal is to continue to examine incidents from multiple perspectives to better enhance prevention and continually drive chemical safety.”


McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

New method of detecting combustible dust uses real-time imaging

Detecting combustible dust
Purdue innovators have created technology to help prevent dust explosions. Photo: Kingsly Ambrose, Purdue University

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

West Lafayette, IN — Using newly developed algorithms, researchers from Purdue University have designed an image- and video-based application to detect combustible dust concentrations suspended in the air.

The application, which the researchers say can be used in agricultural, powder-handling or manufacturing settings, involves capturing images of a suspended dust cloud and then analyzing the light extinction coefficient. In testing, the algorithm was able to recognize 95% of sawdust and 93% of cornstarch particulates in the air, a university press release states, adding that the application was able to distinguish suspended dust from “normal background noise.”

Current technology for detecting dust levels can be expensive and difficult to install in workspaces, and separates dust matter into multiple filters that must be weighed and undergo additional analysis, according to the researchers. In contrast, the new application doesn’t require extended training, is location independent and doesn’t need to be permanently installed.

According to data from the Chemical Safety Board, between 2006 and 2017, 111 combustible dust incidents resulted in 66 worker deaths and 337 injuries in the United States.

“Determining suspended dust concentration allows employers to take appropriate safety measures before any location within the industry forms into an explosive atmosphere,” Kingsly Ambrose, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, said in the release.

The research team, which has worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the technology, said the application can be used effectively in open and confined spaces.

The study was published online July 21 in the Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries.


McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

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