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Materials that can Become Combustible under Specific Situations

One important task of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is regulation harmful dusts, weld fumes and other airborne particulates in the workplace. This is in line with its mission, which is to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.

As explained in a website called RoboVent, OSHA’s authority comes out of its “General Duty Clause,” which says that employers shall furnish their employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that can causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.  To ensure these, OSHA has set “permissible exposure limits” (PEL’s) for workers in facilities where airborne contaminants are an issue. These limits set the amount or volume of any type of substance workers can be exposed to over the course of their shift (usually 8 hours). Substances, which can be harmful to workers, include cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, nickel, and manganese, among others.

Harmful airborne metallic particulates, however, are not the concern of OSHA. There are also toxic fumes, like weld fume, and different types of dusts which, though may not be toxic, can nevertheless affect how workers perform their job. Sources of these dusts include process systems involving wood, paper, food and production of pharmaceutical products.

There is one type of dust that can cause great harm, however: combustible dust. There are many different kinds of materials that can become combustible under specific situations. A few of these materials include: metals such as aluminum, bronze, magnesium and zinc; chemical dusts, such as coal and sulphur; pharmaceuticals; pesticides; rubber; wood; textiles; plastics; and, agricultural products, such as egg whites, powdered milk, cornstarch, sugar, flour, grain, potato, and rice. Essentially, any type of workplace where dust is produced is potentially at risk, workplaces, like grain elevators, food production facilities, chemical manufacturing facilities, metal processing facilities, woodworking facilities, recycling facilities, and coal-fired power plants.

To avoid risks of explosion in facilities where dust is generated, employers will need to implement serious air quality controls, such as by using dust collectors. An efficient and effective dust and fume collection system will not only help prevent accidental explosions due to combustible dusts; it will also enable manufacturers to comply with the air quality requirements set by OSHA and other air quality regulations.

 

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