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Fire Safety: The Dangers of Combustible Dust

Fire Safety 101: Combustible Dust

Every contractor knows the various dangers that dust can cause to their workers, especially in enclosed spaces. Respiratory issues, skin damage and even cancer can result. Another hazard involved with some dust, however, is that of an explosion. If you work with combustible dust materials, it is vital to understand these fire safety hazards and how to prevent combustion to reduce the potential for injury and mitigate your own liability concerns.

Dust Explosions

There are three main factors that go into a fire: heat, oxygen and fuel. The combustible dust in this case forms the fuel. If dust is present and dispersed in a large enough concentration and quantity, a process known as deflagration can result. In deflagration, rapid combustion occurs when dust particles are compressed in an enclosed space where pressure creates heat.

This process, which involves the three fire factors plus dispersion and confinement, form what is known as the “Dust Explosion Pentagon.” Even worse, after the initial explosion, more dust can be released into the air or a containment system can rupture, causing an even more massive secondary explosion.

Housekeeping and Inspection

It is vital to identify the fire safety risk factors of explosions to ensure that they don’t result in catastrophic accidents. Site managers and employees should be trained to assess the risk factors involved in materials handled, operations, spaces and ignition sources.

To control dust, regular and thorough inspections, housekeeping, cleaning and testing should be engaged to ensure that dust is properly filtered and collected. Ventilation systems and equipment should be maintained to minimize dust escaping into the environment. Cleaning methods should be carefully considered so as to not result in clouds of dust, and proper vacuum cleaners that meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards should be used to collect particles.

Controlling Ignition

During inspections, ignition hazards should be assessed as well as the presence of dust, to make sure that fire safety requirements are in place. All electrical equipment and wiring should be carefully and properly insulated. Steps such as ground bonding should be taken to avoid static electricity. All heat, heated surfaces and open flames should be kept far and separate from the areas where dust might collect. This includes smoking by workers.

Even vehicles can create an explosion hazard. It’s important to understand that anything that creates heat or sparks can result in an explosion if combustible dust is present. All tools and equipment should be used properly and all workers should be thoroughly trained in the right policies and safety procedures to avoid ignition. This includes the use of fire suppression and explosion protection systems in case ignition does occur.

OSHA maintains safety and data sheets for a broad variety of workplace risks, which outline not only the rules and regulations employers must meet, but suggestions for emergency preparedness and mitigating disastrous situations. Contractors should be well-versed in these issues and carry the proper liability insurance.



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Contractor Safety: Why Fatigue is Dangerous on the Jobsite

Construction can be a rough job, which is why contractor safety should always be a primary concern. There are hard deadlines to meet and working conditions can be rough. All too often, when faced with a harsh deadline, workers push extra hours and double shifts to get things done on time. Unfortunately, pushing too hard can lead to fatigue which can result in excess liability for contractors as well as accidents, injury and disaster. Here’s a look at the risks associated with fatigue in the workplace.

Construction and Fatigue

Construction work is one of the most dangerous jobs out there. The nature of the work, which involves strenuous and often constant manual labor, can be mentally exhausting. This is ironically compounded by the stress involved with maintaining proper safety procedures and balancing them with the demands of productivity.

Fatigue can affect anyone at any time, but when the work depends on keeping alert and sharp, the need to avoid this condition becomes crucial. In addition, fatigue can create health problems and drastically increases the potential for catastrophic injury as well as reducing productivity.

Avoiding Fatigue

Foremen and managers should carefully and regularly evaluate the job site for fatigue risks. These include physical and mental job demands, long work hours, too many days on vs. days off, and environmental conditions such as extreme heat, cold or rain. Individual workers’ health and lifestyle also plays a factor.

If these conditions are present, it’s essential for the employer to address the issue. After a disaster happens it’s too late. Take care of your employees. If you see one who shows signs of fatigue, knock them off early or give them a day off. It’s better to lose a day from one employee than to lose days or weeks from an accident on site.

Benefits of Reducing Fatigue

Keep a sharp eye out for signs of fatigue in the workplace and be aware that they can come on suddenly. A worker who seems fine Tuesday may look exhausted on Wednesday. Taking steps to avoid fatigue carries measurable benefits to the work place and overall contractor safety. These include:

Encourage Healthy Living

A healthy lifestyle and plenty of sleep are the best defenses against fatigue. Employers should always encourage their workers to maintain healthy living and physical fitness to help boost contractor safety. Post educational posters and make literature available. Consider sponsoring fitness activities and offering benefits like gym memberships to your workers. Provide incentives for good eating and encourage employees to get plenty of rest. These simple activities cost far less to an employer than the cost of accidents and injury, and can actually save money on insurance premiums.


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