What is combustible dust?

Get to know the dangers of combustible materials and how to get protected

According to OSHA,

A wide variety of materials that can be explosible in dust form exist in many industries. Some industry examples include: food (e.g., candy, sugar, spice, starch, flour, feed), grain, tobacco, plastics, wood, paper, pulp, rubber, furniture, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dyes, coal, metals (e.g., aluminum, chromium, iron, magnesium, and zinc), and fossil-fuel power generation.

Combustible dust hazards

Any combustible material can cause flash fire and dusts are no exclusion. Solid materials in a finely divided form can burn rapidly. In addition to flash fire, under certain conditions dust can become explosive if it is suspended in air. Even materials that do not burn in larger pieces can be explosive in dust form. The force from an explosion can result in personnel deaths, burn injuries, and destruction.

Spring 2013: OSHA began rulemaking to develop a combustible dust standard for general industry. See the latest updates here.

While the final standard from OSHA is not yet complete, employers should consider the OSHA general duty clause. If a hazard is not addressed by an OSHA standard, Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, the General Duty Clause may apply.

  • Requires employers to "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees".
  • FR clothing serves as a last line of defense. Flame resistant clothing offers some protection from potential burn injuries associated with a flash fire.
  • The NFPA 2112, Standard on Flame Resistant Garments for Protection of Industrial Personnel Against Flash Fire, references dust as a fuel source for flash fires.