How Can Dust-Related Fires in the Workplace Be Prevented?

person pointing at fire alarm

Factories, warehouses, and processing plants accumulate dust, even when every effort is made to maintain a clean work environment. Although it is impossible to eliminate all dust, it is important that proactive steps are taken to prevent dust from accumulating, particularly certain types of dust that are combustible or likely to cause a devastating dust explosion in the workplace. When a dust-related fire or explosion occurs, it can spread quickly and cause massive property damage and employees can suffer serious personal injuries and fatalities. Fortunately, dust fires and explosions are preventable by having the right safety protocols and place and ensuring that they are followed at all times. If you are injured in a dust fire or explosion that occurred in the workplace, do not hesitate to contact a lawyer thoroughly experienced in Workers’ Compensation cases.

What Causes Dust Fires and Explosions?

Dust is a highly combustible material, yet it is often overlooked as a major cause of fires in a range of industries. Everything from chemicals, metal, food, and dyes have the potential to become combustible in dust form. Although certain types of fires are easier to contain, even a small dust fire can quickly get out of control if there is dust in the area, and the primary explosion causes that dust to become airborne. If that dust cloud ignites, it can cause a secondary explosion that is significantly larger and more dangerous than the primary explosion. In fact, if enough dust has accumulated, the secondary explosion can engulf an entire facility in flames and cause catastrophic injuries and fatalities.

What Should Employers Do to Reduce the Risk of Dust Fires in the Workplace?

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all employees, which means recognizing the safety risks associated with an accumulation of dust, and taking the necessary steps to prevent devastating dust fires and explosions, including the following:

  • Understand which dusts are more likely to be combustible. While most materials can be combustible in dust form, it is important to know which types of materials are more likely to produce combustible dust. If the facility produces metal, food, or plastic powder, the facility is likely producing combustible dust. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fact sheet on combustible dust can help employers determine whether the materials they produce fall into one of the following categories, which will help employers incorporate the appropriate prevention methods:
    – Agricultural products
    – Dusts
    – Carbonaceous dust
    – Metal dusts
    – Plastic dusts
  • Provide the necessary training for all employees. Make sure that all employees are informed about the safety hazards to which they may be exposed, including where dust fires and explosions are likely to occur, the steps to take to prevent them, and what to do if a fire or explosion occurs. Establish a culture that prioritizes safety, and encourage employees to report any unsafe practices, including those related to dust or other factors that increase the risk of dangerous fires. All employees should be trained on the safety protocols before they start their job.
  • Implement a dust inspection and control program. To ensure that the facility is being cleaned regularly and the combustible dust is properly removed from the facility, employers should have an effective dust inspection and control program in place. That means ensuring that employees and supervisors inspect high-risk areas for dust accumulation and take steps to improve the cleaning protocols if dust starts to accumulate. According to OSHA, an accumulation of 1/32 of an inch or more is considered too much dust.
  • Avoid cleaning methods that generate dust clouds. When there is an accumulation of dust in the air, there is an increased risk of a dust explosion. The risk of an explosion can be minimized by avoiding the use of compressed air, fans, or brooms, which disperse clouds of dust into the air. Dust collection systems and central vacuum cleaning are recommended cleaning methods.
  • Control ignition threats. There must be a heat source present for combustible dust to ignite. If the heat source can be limited or removed, the risk of a fire or explosion will be minimized. Employers should control the machinery that is used, make sure that all electrical equipment is grounded, and post “no smoking” signs throughout the facility to discourage employees from smoking, particularly in areas where there may be combustible dust.
  • Make sure that the electrical wiring and equipment are approved for the conditions. Using the appropriate electrical equipment in hazardous locations ensures that common ignition sources are eliminated.
  • Move dust collectors outside. To limit the risk of dust getting dispersed into the air, dust collectors with a volume of 8 cubic feet or more should be placed outside.

What Can I Do to Prevent a Dust Fire or Explosion?

Although your employer has a responsibility to ensure that the work environment is safe and free of serious safety hazards, there are steps that you can take to reduce the risk of a dust fire or explosion, including the following:

  • Maintain a clean workspace. A dust fire can happen only if combustible dust has accumulated. By cleaning the area regularly and thoroughly, you will prevent dust from collecting and reduce the risk of a dust fire. In addition to the main areas of your workspace, make sure that you clean hard-to-reach areas where dust is likely to collect, including ceilings, ventilation ducts, the inside of machines, and the tops of pipes.
  • Be aware of the danger signs. If you are aware of the potential threats associated with combustible dust and the steps you should take to handle these threats before the situation escalates, you are more likely to prevent a dust fire or explosion or reduce the severity of the event.
  • Notify your employer if equipment requires maintenance. If a piece of equipment needs repair, it is more likely to cause an ignition. Equipment that needs repair is a common cause of ignition. Do not use a machine or piece of equipment until it has been repaired or replaced.

What Damages May I Receive if I Am Injured in a Dust Fire at Work?

 Dust fires are extremely dangerous and can cause a range of serious, even fatal injuries that can cause you to miss days, weeks, or more of work. Fortunately, you may be eligible for financial compensation by filing a Workers’ Compensation claim with your employer. It is important that you notify your employer of your injury as soon as possible, and that you get immediate medical treatment, particularly if you suffered serious burns from a dust fire or explosion. If your claim is approved, Workers’ Compensation benefits cover following expenses:

  • All medical expenses related to the injury, including hospital bills, surgeries, follow-up care, prescription medications, physical therapy, medical equipment, and vocational rehabilitation
  • Lost wages if you are unable to return to work for an extended period.
  • Disability benefits, including the following:
    – Temporary total disability (TTD): If you are unable to work while you are recovering from your injury, you will be eligible for TTD benefits, which are two-thirds of your average weekly wage at the time of your injury.
    – Temporary partial disability (TPD): If you are able to return to work but are not able to earn your full salary because of your injury, you will receive TPD benefits, which are 50 percent of the difference between your pre-injury wages and your current earning capacity.
    – Permanent partial disability (PPD): If you able to return to work but not in the same capacity, you will receive PPD benefits based on the part of the body that was injured, and the extent of the impairment
    – Permanent total disability (PTD): These benefits are available if you are permanently and totally disabled and are unable to return to work in any capacity.
  • Death benefits: If you or a loved one suffered a fatal injury in a dust fire or explosion at work, the surviving family members may be entitled to death benefits, which include funeral expenses, medical expenses related to the injury, and weekly income payments based on whether the deceased provided 100 percent of the family’s financial support, or a percentage. For example, if the deceased employee earned $800 per week and was the sole provider for the family, the surviving family members will receive weekly payments of $800. If the deceased contributed 50 percent of the family’s income, the weekly death benefits will be 50 percent of $800, or $400.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Secure Benefits for Employees Injured by Dust Fires

If you were seriously injured in a dust fire or an explosion at work, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will walk you through every step of the claims process and ensure that you receive full and fair financial benefits. Our dedicated legal team will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, allowing us to represent clients in Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.