As we approach seasonal shut down time for many industrial plants and facilities, we’ve been getting more calls for combustible dust cleaning estimates. It’s great that companies are becoming more aware of this growing hazard, and moving forward with creating safer working environments for their employees. For some companies, especially smaller ones, it may seem like a good idea to go ahead and clean it themselves. If they can spare a worker and a shop vac for a day, it’s cheaper, and that should get it done, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong.
OSHA’s Safety and Health Information Bulletin called Combustible Dust in Industry: Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Fire and Explosions says to clean dust residues at regular intervals, use cleaning methods that do not generate dust clouds if ignition sources are present, and only use vacuum cleaners approved for dust collection. When I hear companies say they’re going to “just blow it down ourselves,” it makes my heart jump. It’s dangerous at best, and can create a dust cloud that’s susceptible to ignition. One small spark is all it takes to create a catastrophe.
Sometimes we hear of companies that decide just to vacuum up combustible dust accumulation. They’ve got a shop vac, and they can do it in-house. Is the person doing the vacuuming wearing flame resistant clothing? Checking for no exposed steel on their shoes? Is that shop vac suitable for NEC 500 Class II hazardous atmospheres? Do they meet the NFPA 70 requirements for grounding/bonding? Is it intrinsically safe? Didn’t think so. Regular vacuums are a risk for sparking hazards, and sometimes create combustible dust clouds themselves. (Not to mention that they’re not that great at picking up the fine dust and heavier materials.)
Please don’t try to clean combustible dust accumulation hazards with compressed air or traditional vacuuming or sweeping. Enlist the help of a professional who has experience in combustible dust remediation. Chances of creating an even bigger risk of explosion during the cleaning process is too great without the right equipment and methods. This will help you avoid fines and help keep your employees safe.