Dust explosions can be catastrophic, and can cause injuries and property damage, or even claim lives. It is possible however, to minimise the risk by identifying and mitigating contributing factors.
Dust may seem harmless but under certain conditions can pose a deadly problem.
Graeme Cooper, Managing Director of Tecpro Australia explains that several contributing factors must be present for a dust explosion to occur. These include the presence of airborne, combustible dust in high concentrations and an oxidising agent such as oxygen in the environment, in addition to a trigger for ignition such as a flame or static electricity.
Dust explosions typically occur in contained environments such as underground mines, mills and storage facilities. Combustible dust types include coal, grain, flour, sugar, sawdust, magnesium, cotton and even powdered metals such as titanium and aluminium.
According to Mr Cooper, one of the biggest problems is that dust is hardly perceived as a real threat to safety, unlike gas odours or flammable vapours, which are considered as an obvious explosion risk and receive quick response. But a large build-up of dust may not necessarily make people in the area think about the possibility of an explosion risk.
Lower grade dust explosions where there is no damage to people or property can also create a false sense of security, and even complacency, though there is no guarantee future explosions won’t escalate into a larger disaster. Mr Cooper points out smaller dust explosions can unsettle dust elsewhere, causing rolling explosions and greater damage.
He advises facilities to be vigilant and proactive by eliminating or minimising the factors that can contribute to a dust explosion.
Tecpro Australia is routinely called upon to offer advice and solutions regarding dust control and risk mitigation.
Tecpro Australia has developed a large number of dust suppression solutions for a range of environments including coal mines, transfer stations, grain storage facilities, rubbish dumps and concrete manufacturing plants among others. Each situation is carefully considered and a dust suppression solution customised to match the nature of the dust and its setting.
Tecpro’s expertise was recently acknowledged when the company won the 2012 Australian Bulk Handling Review Award for Dust Control, Technology, Application or Practice in partnership with the University of Wollongong.