Combustible Dust OSHA Fact Sheet


Combustible dust means just what it sounds like, it’s dust that accumulates in the air to a level where it can ignite. A number of products are known to be especially volatile and therefore, especially dangerous.

It is, therefore, important to know if the products you work around are classified as potentially combustible and to know how to take the appropriate steps to protect yourself and others who work around them.

Examples of combustible dusts include charcoal, corn, egg white, fertilizer,flour, powdered milk, spices, aluminum, starch, sugar, tobacco, and a lot of other substances.

Sugar, for example, is combustible but the sugar molecules burn up in a quick flash and don’t normally present a problem. The danger arises when those molecules are close enough to ignite the molecule next to it whether those molecules are floating in the air or have accumulated on surfaces in the work area. When that happens a chain explosion takes place.

To learn more read the recently released OSHA Fact Sheet to help inform on the dangers of combustible dust.


OSHA Finally moving on Combustible Dust Issue

A memo published on the OSHA website on Dec. 31, 2013 finally makes some progress on the issue of combustible dust hazards. We’ve talked about this a lot on this blog (just do a search for “combustible dust” to follow all the posts, especially those that relate to the accusations from the Chemical Safety Board about OSHA’s dragging their feet).

The memo attends to classify products to find out if they have the potential to fall in the combustible dust hazard category.

It lists three different ways to attempt to classify products:
1. Lab Tests – If available, lab tests should clearly identify potential combustible dusts
2. Published test results – NFPA and OSHA have already published a list of substances that may pose a hazard (
3. Particle Size – Any substance with a particle size of 420 microns or less.

While this is not the final word, or even a full-fledged standard, it does give inspectors and safety officers something to go on to help identify potential problems and take steps to keep an explosion from happening.

OSHA’s Combustible Dust Page

In the wake of severe criticism about the delay of a set standard on combustible dust (See, OSHA has recently redesigned and restructed their Combustible Dust web page.

Divided into seven sections to reflect the natural progression from little to no knowledge of the issue to rulemaking by OSHA and other resources, the site provides a ton of information.

Acknowledging that they still have ways to go before OSHA does state that “OSHA has begun the rulemaking process to develop a combustible dust standard for general industry”.

While there is still a long way to go on the issue of combustible dust, this is a great place to start for anyone who needs to find out more and get educated.

(Click on the above image to go to the OSHA combustible web page)

Experts to testify on Combustible Dust Hazards

We’ve talked about it on this site before, the danger of combustible dust. Imperial Sugar, last year was just one of the many incidents of that past 30 years or so that caused fatalities.

What is combustible dust? Quite simply, it’s fine particulates in the air that have the potential to ignite if the conditions are right, turning the surroundings into a blazing inferno. We tend to think of explosive gases as being the main culprits but almost any substance that is fine enough and in a high enough concentration in the air can potentially ignite (most of us wouldn’t think of sugar dust as being particularly dangerous, at least in terms of explosive potential).

In the past 30 years (since we began tracking this issue) almost 150 workers have lost their lives to combustible dust.

OSHA, in the wake of the Imperial Sugar explosion, among others, has decided to make this issue a priority. On May 13th, 2011 they are gathering together “outside experts” in Washington DC for a forum. Unless you’ve gotten your invitation as an expert, however, you’re going to have to fight for a spot if you wish to attend. OSHA states “There will be limited space available for non-participating observers, so OSHA asks that only one representative from interested organizations register as an observer. To register as a non-participating observer, contact Bill Hamilton at 202-693-2077 by May 6, 2011.”

To learn more about combustible dust and the hazard it presents, check out the OSHA website entitled “Combustible Dust“.

Unsafe Conditions – The Deadly Dozen # 3

3. Fire and explosion hazards

A quick scan in Wikipedia of the worst industrial accidents of the past few years make obvious how serious today’s unsafe condition is; fires and explosions make up a huge percentage of the accidents. Just this past year, sugar dust at Imperial Sugar caused an explosion that was labeled “the deadliest industrial explosion in the United States in decades” (See the 4 posts on this blog concerning this explosion).

More lives are lost through fires and explosions than any other industrial accident. Conditions that are conducive to fires and explosions cannot be tolerated in the workplace.

The Fix

It is obviously beyond the scope of a daily post on a blog to try to solve the issues of fires and explosions in the workplace. A great place to start, however is “The Basics of Fire Safety” which is part of our “Basic Safety” series. Understanding the fire triangle, understanding combustibles, to chemical safety, … all of these are crucial.

For a proper assessment of the potential problems in your workplace, hire a professional, have the fire department do a walk-through, hire an industrial hygienist to do a proper evaluation.

It may cost a bit of money to have all this done but compared to the cost of the lives involved (not to mention the fines which, for Imperial Sugar amounted to $8,777,500) it is nothing.

Combustible Dust Explosion Inspection Seminar

Stumble It! Digg! Add to Mixx! Pownce

On the heels of the third largest fine in the history of OSHA, in the wake of the explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant that we have discussed in detail here earlier on during the week comes a seminar by OSHA addressing Combustible dust explosion inspection.

Due to take place in Naperville IL (Actually my old stomping grounds some 12 year ago J) on August 14th and presented by Joseph Howicz who is a CSP and Fire Protection expert who has worked as a senior compliance officer and investigator for OSHA, it will answer address issues related to explosions due to combustible dust in the environment.

It is primarily designed to address the question of whether or not your facility, your business and your employees are at risk.

For a complete schedule and for a registration form, go to the Illinois Safety Council website and download the PDF. It is available by clicking here.