What Imperial Sugar Taught Us About Combustible Dust

Imperial Sugar Dust ExplosionCombustible dust is a risk far too many in the manufacturing industry do not fully understand. Issues concerning combustible dust can have a serious effect on businesses, ranging from fines for noncompliance to devastating explosions leading to loss of life. In 2008, disaster struck at a Georgia sugar refinery with painful consequences that brought the issue of combustible dust to the forefront of industrial safety concerns.

Combustible Dust Ravages Imperial Sugar

The incident at the Imperial Sugar Refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, involved a dust explosion, a secondary explosion, and fires that claimed the lives of 14 people and injured 38 others, including 14 with serious and life-threatening burns. The explosion was fueled by excessive accumulations of combustible sugar dust throughout the packaging facility.

Image courtesy of CSB

Since 2008, rigorous and demanding regulatory standards for managing combustible dusts have increased, raising awareness in the field. Under the Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP), which was reissued following the disaster, OSHA ramped up its vigilance and enforcement of worker safety regulations in plants that handle combustible dusts.

NFPA Regulatory Standards for Combustible Dust Today

NFPA 652, issued in 2015, set a new standard on the fundamentals of combustible dust as it relates to industry-specific standards. It assured that standard requirements are consistently managed across industries, processes, and dust types. As of October 2018, industries were no longer “grandfathered” into compliance, meaning individual industries are required to develop and maintain compliance with NFPA standards.

Facility and business owners are responsible for determining whether the dust materials in their operation are explosive or combustible. This includes facilities that have no previous record of incidents. Such facilities are required to evaluate current conditions to verify compliance. Any process that involves handling or generating dusts, powders, or materials that break apart into smaller pieces during processing should be considered a process that involves combustible dust. These manufacturers are responsible for documenting the properties of the material as required to support the Dust Hazard Analysis (DHA).

Air Solutions and its associates are highly experienced in NFPA combustible dust compliance and explosion protection. We can assist with dust testing and evaluating the system-wide vulnerabilities at your facility. Our team will partner with you to assure that you understand and comply with NFPA 652 and other applicable combustible dust standards. Air Solutions can assist in development of compliance solutions that address the needs of specific facilities and processes so you can confidently meet NFPA challenges.