Belsky Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC A Personal Injury & Workers’ Compensation Law Firm

The danger posed by combustible dust in the workplace

Maryland workers who are employed at manufacturing or processing facilities may be at risk of being injured or killed in an accident caused by combustible dust. Many different materials can become explosive when finely divided into dust, and some substances that are difficult to burn may still become extremely volatile when in particles small enough to hang in the air. Explosions involving combustible dust are often catastrophic and occur without warning, and they have been known to reduce workplaces to rubble. In 2008, an exploding cloud of sugar dust killed 14 workers in Georgia.

Predicting a combustible dust incident can be challenging as the dust can sit undisturbed for years until changes in atmospheric conditions make it volatile. According to OSHA, accidents involving combustible dust claimed 119 lives between 1980 and 2005. These incidents also caused 718 workplace injuries. OSHA is believed to be compiling a list of rules for dealing with combustible dust, and the National Fire Protection Association published a standard dealing with dangerous dust in 2015.

Preventing combustible dust accidents requires vigilance and dedication. Air must be analyzed frequently for any signs of changes that could lead to dust becoming volatile, and ventilation equipment should be serviced and cleaned regularly. Workers should also be educated about the dangers of explosive dust and advised to keep their workplaces as dust free as possible.

Workers injured in a combustible dust explosion are unlikely to be able to return to work for some time, and the workers' compensation program is designed to provide them with financial assistance during this difficult period. Sometimes, employers concerned about rising insurance rates may contest a worker's claim by alleging that the injuries are being exaggerated or were not suffered at work. An attorney with experience in this area will likely be familiar with these tactics and can advocate on behalf of injured workers during subsequent hearings.

Source: OSHA, "Combustible Dust: An Explosion Hazard", accessed on Oct. 25, 2015

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