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Why You Need to Think About Combustible Dust Compliance

October 8, 2018
Nilfisk Inc. District Sales Manager Terry Oelkers will discuss combustible dust compliance issues in a free webinar on Oct. 10. Image courtesy of Pixabay
Nilfisk Inc. District Sales Manager Terry Oelkers will discuss combustible dust compliance issues in a free webinar on Oct. 10. Image courtesy of Pixabay

Combustible dust hazards are unfortunately all too common in operations across a variety of industries. While a number of standards and regulations exist that are intended to curb the risk of combustible dust fires and explosions, some facilities do not work to comply with these laws and guidelines until after an event occurs. 

In advance of the upcoming Powder & Bulk Solids DryPro series webinar, “Combustible Dust: 5 Things to Understand on the Road to Compliance,” on Oct. 10, Terry Oelkers, District Sales Manager at Nilfisk Inc., highlighted common issues facilities face in an interview. 

Powder & Bulk SolidsAs you visit facilities, what are the top three challenges that operations face when it comes to compliance with combustible dust standards and regulations?

Oelkers: Awareness is one – that is most likely the key challenge, awareness and understanding. You have people that are still very ignorant of what is a combustible dust, even though its everything from flour to sugar, plastics to metals, to additive manufacturing. Second is the arrogance of it. That’s never happened here, we’ve always done it this way, nothing has ever happened. The third is the economics, where you’ve got the facility that may be moving from the ABCs – air broom collection – and using a shop-style vacuum to spending thousands of dollars for a compliant piece of equipment. 

Powder & Bulk SolidsWould you say that the industries that you deal pay more attention to standards like NFPA 652 or to the OSHA regulations that touch their operations? 

Oelkers: I’d say OSHA regulations more than anything. They don’t realize that OSHA uses NFPA as part of their approach to combustible dust issues and Combustible Dust Emphasis Program. OSHA does not have a law or regulation out there yet, that’s still in process. Many facilities don’t understand what the definition of “Authority Having Jurisdiction” is, whether that’s OSHA, whether that’s their insurance provider, their own safety department. I’ve seen so many eyebrows raised when I say well it could be your local fire marshal who has state fire codes that address combustible dust, which those state fire codes use international fire codes for their guideline, their template. And they’ll say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that!’ 

That’s the challenge, is that many people are not aware that the majority of particulates that they are processing are combustible – because they look at it in a pile, they don’t envision it dispersed into the air with oxygen around all those particulates.

Powder & Bulk Solids: What role does cleaning play in combustible dust compliance?

Oelkers: A major role. OSHA’s requirement is that there should be no more than 1/32nd of an inch of dust over more than 5% of a flat surface in your facility, and that depth is less than a paper clip. At some facilities, you can walk in and look at your shoes and know there’s too much dust, or look at the piles that might get kicked up, or smell it or taste that dust in the air. And all it has to do is just get more confined, then it could be an issue.

Powder & Bulk SolidsWhat are some reasons that facilities start to think about improving their combustible dust compliance?

Oelkers: Number one would be, if their safety personnel are strong enough or aware enough, they would be moving that company that way. Most likely two major Authorities Having Jurisdiction have visited them. One would be an OSHA rep because facility A has the same SIC code as facility B and there was an event there. Or their insurance provider, they’re all aware of combustible dust because it’s a risk, therefore it’s a cost of doing business, but it’s also a reason to raise premiums. So, insurance companies go in and say ‘Hey, NFPA 652 came out in September 2015, have you done your dust hazard analysis? Because we view you as having a combustible dust risk.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, no, I haven’t.’ Well, you’re three years into five-year window of doing that.

So, it’s usually someone like that who has forced the issue, or maybe they’re aware enough where they’ve seen something happen like the event at Didion Milling in Cambria, WI last year. That caused a blip where those people who are dealing with corn milling or agricultural elevators now are calling people to deal with these issues. 

Powder & Bulk SolidsHow has Nilfisk helped operations navigate these challenges?

Oelkers: We are one of the only companies that actually puts trained representatives out into the field. We have grown from general duty vacuums with anti-static hoses and tools to fully explosion-proof, or combustible dust safe, NRTL-certified equipment over the years. And some companies haven’t gotten to that. I myself do webinars and combustible dust seminars at state safety conferences. I’ve presented in North Dakota, and I’ll be presenting in Iowa next year. We are closely aligned with dust collection companies who put the big dust collectors in these facilities because the dust collectors can’t get all the dust from a process. There will be some sort of fugitive dust that falls onto the floor, floats onto the girder, floats onto the light fixtures, floats onto the top of your machine.

Join Terry Oelkers and Nilfisk Director of Engineering Norman Nowosinski, P.E for a free Powder & Bulk Solids webinar on Wed., Oct. 10, 2018 at 2 P.M. EDT (11 A.M. PDT) to learn what you need to know to keep your facility safe and compliant. To register, click here

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