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Dangers of Combustible Dust Explosions in the Workplace

Written by Jared Staver

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Jared Staver is a Personal Injury Lawyer based in Chicago, Illinois and has been practicing law for over 20 years.

Jared Staver

CATEGORY: Personal Injury, Workers' Compensation


When you go to work, you expect to come home safely. Sadly, however, dangers in the workplace are more common than you might think. One of these dangers comes from combustible dust explosions in industrial facilities. Between 2006 and 2017, 66 people died and 337 people suffered burns and other injuries in combustible dust explosions and resulting fires, according to U.S. Chemical Safety Board statistics. These tragic numbers highlight how unsafe the workplace can be, and how quickly your livelihood can be stripped away when you’re the victim of an accident. If you’ve been injured at work, a workplace injury lawyer can answer questions about filing for workers’ compensation and other steps you might take to recoup lost income.

Our Chicago workplace injury attorneys thoroughly understand employee rights in the workplace and are experienced in handling workers’ compensation claims and insurance negotiations. Contact Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. via our online contact form or by calling (312) 236-2900.

What Causes a Combustible Dust Explosion?

While dust is annoying, it can be hard to believe that these seemingly innocent particles pose such a potential danger. So what causes dust to explode? Combustible dust explosions and fires occur when layers of dust are allowed to accumulate on surfaces in buildings. Dusts from wood, metals, and even sugar, flours, and grains can be culprits in explosions. Basically, combustible dust is any fine material that can explode when certain conditions are present.

In order for the combustible dust to ignite, there must be fuel, oxygen, and an ignition source present. The dust must also be dispersed in a confined space in just the right concentration, which causes pressure to build up and increases the chances of an explosion.

The CSB explains it this way in its combustible dust fact sheet:

“Dust may accumulate on surfaces and lie undisturbed for years. Then an initial fire or explosion, known as a primary event, shakes it loose and it ignites. The resulting pressure wave travels through the plant and dislodges accumulated dust from the rafters, beams, and equipment. This serves as the fuel for the secondary explosions. Most of the fatalities and the devastating injuries have been caused by these secondary dust explosions.”

Where Do These Tragic Incidents Occur?

Combustible dust explosions occur in a variety of industrial facilities where layers of accumulated dust may be present. Just a few types of facilities where dangers from combustible dust might lurk include the following:

  • Food processing plants
  • Grain elevators
  • Pulp and paper manufacturing plants
  • Waste treatment facilities
  • Oil production facilities
  • Woodworking facilities
  • Fuel storage plants
  • Chemical manufacturing plants.

Preventing Combustible Dust Explosions

There are several things companies can do to prevent these dangerous explosions and keep their workers safe. One of them is the most obvious—practice good housekeeping by keeping surfaces free of accumulated dust. The National Fire Protection Association notes that explosions can happen when a layer of dust that is only the thickness of a dime covers just five percent of a room’s surfaces.

Other recommendations from safety experts include implementing dust inspection programs, equipping facilities with proper dust collection systems, training employees to understand the hazards posed by combustible dust, and controlling ignition sources.

Contact an Illinois Workplace Injury Lawyer

Unfortunately, workplace injuries aren’t always preventable. Safety violations in workplaces often lead to accidents and injuries. If you’ve been injured in a workplace accident, are unable to work, and are wondering how you will feed your family, contact our experienced personal injury attorneys at Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. Call us at (312) 236-2900 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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(312) 236-2900
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