Dust Explosion

Last updated: May 10, 2024

What Does Dust Explosion Mean?

A dust explosion results when a certain amount of combustible dust is dispersed through the air in sufficient concentration to cause a violent reaction when ignited by a flame, spark, or other ignition source.

Dust explosions can happen in a variety of work situations, as combustible dusts can be made from many different types of material, including metals.

Safeopedia Explains Dust Explosion

Many solid materials become combustible if they are broken down into small particles with a relatively large surface-to-mass ratio. Combustible dust explosions have caused numerous workplace injuries and deaths and can destroy entire buildings.

Dust explosions occur due to the rapid ignition of the material that forms the dust cloud. If the explosive material burns quickly enough to consume all of the oxygen (or other fuel source) in the environment before all of the explosive material is consumed, there is a risk that follow-up explosions may occur.

Combustible dust explosions are severe hazards. According to the National Fire Protection Association, they can result from a dispersal of dust accumulations that are only as thick as a paper clip. Between 1980 and 2005, combustible dust explosions in the United States killed 119 workers and injured 718, and 14 workers were killed in a 2008 sugar dust explosion in Georgia.

Despite the dangers of combustible dust explosions, OSHA does not have a combustible dust standard. However, the “Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program” allows the agency to issue dust-related fines under 18 different CFR standards as well as the General Duty Clause. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standards also require chemical manufacturers to clearly indicate any risk of explosion posed by their substances, including dust explosions.

Dust explosion prevention is also considered by the standards of other safety organizations. U.S. fire marshals rely on the National Fire Protection Association Standard 652 (Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust) when inspecting workplaces for fire hazards. Other jurisdictions have specifically addressed the risk of workplace dust explosions through standards such as the UK’s Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations.


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