Combustible dust is a major workplace danger. If you can write your name in the dust, and it’s combustible dust, you could have a dust explosion.

Combustible_Dust_Hazards-Creative_Safety_Supply-250x250Wood and food processing can create combustible dust. But so can the processing of some metal and non-organic materials.

For a dust fire or explosion, five things are needed: oxygen, heat, fuel (dust), dust suspended in air, and a confined space. This is the Dust Explosion Pentagon.

If you have dust, send it to a lab for a Go/No-Go test to determine if it is combustible dust. Keep your facility free of dust accumulation with regular cleaning. Safety housekeeping is important and could save lives.


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Dan Clark: Can you write your name in the dust? You could be in danger of a dust explosion.

Hello , I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief. This is where we talk about health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites.

Other than a breathing hazard, dust seems harmless. But, too many times, indoors, the conditions are right for dust to explode or catch fire. Workers and managers need to know what kinds of dust can explode and how to make sure it doesn’t.

Combustible dust comes from:

1. Most solid organics – flour, sugar and wood are examples.

2. Many metals – even though they would never catch fire as solids, in fine form, they become combustible dust.

3. Some non-metal in-organics – such as plastics.

Dust Explosion Pentagon –

What causes a dust fire? Remember the fire triangle from science class? You need three things—heat, oxygen and fuel. Dust is the fuel.

What causes dust to combust? Add two things to that triangle—the dust, dispersed in the air, and a confined space. Anything with a floor, ceiling and walls. 

We’ve just described the Dust Explosion Pentagon.

Once an explosion occurs, it disperses even more combustible dust causing secondary explosions.

The danger may not be ever-present, but if something shakes a major amount of combustible dust from rafters and heating vents, and then there is a spark or other heat source, BOOM. This is why industrial hygiene is so important.

Employers need to be aware of what processes create combustible dust. They should have a lab examine dust in a Go/No-Go test.

Companies also need to develop engineering controls and housekeeping to keep dust from building up. This may require daily cleaning with vacuums or mops. Be careful about sweeping or blowing. This produces dust clouds that could explode.

OSHA is still working on combustible dust regulations after a 2008 explosion and fire caused by sugar dust. This disaster happened at the Imperial Sugar factory in Georgia, killing 14 and injuring 38.

In the meantime, companies must follow NFPA guidelines enforced by fire marshals and building inspectors in their local area.

That’s it for this episode on Combustible Dust Hazards. Come back for more tips and techniques on how to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, sponsored by Creative Safety Supply. See the website at


A poster with a comprehensive list of combustible dusts is provided by OSHA here.

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