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Avoiding dust explosions

28 October 2019

James Miller offers advice on avoiding dust explosions in the food factory through the use of a centralised dust extraction system. 

Dust explosions occur when combustible dust is mixed with air or oxygen and is ignited. For this to happen, the dust must occur in sufficiently large concentrations. Almost all flammable substances that arise as a result of, or that are used during industrial manufacturing, are combustible and can cause explosions under certain conditions.

The term ATEX refers to atmospheres that are potentially explosive and EU Directive 1999/92/EC covers the health and safety of workers in such environments. All equipment marketed in the EU for use in ATEX areas with ‘inherent ignition sources’ must fulfil the requirements of Directive 2014/34/EU. 

In addition, employers with workplaces where employees may be at risk from explosive atmospheres must have established an explosion protection document in accordance with the mandatory regulations. This should include risk analysis, classification plans, an inventory of flammable liquids, gases and dust, as well as procedures for their safe handling to minimise explosive atmospheres.

Extraction at source
By using a centralised extraction system designed to extract from an ATEX zone and designed according to the dust being extracted, it is possible to extract dust, fumes, chips, oil spillages and other harmful substances at source. In addition, the system can be used for powerful vacuum cleaning. The result is efficient production where the risk of a dust explosion is reduced to a minimum, or even eliminated. Collected material can either be captured and discharged locally, for example, by recycling it back into the process, or be taken back to the filter unit and discharged away from the main production environment. 

Centralised systems, with a fixed pipe run back to a plant area, can provide advantages to mobile equipment in terms of simple maintenance, delivery of material to a common point, and reduction in the risk of local trip and electrical hazards.

Where the extraction system forms part of the risk assessment, cost reductions in the purchase of electrical equipment suited to ATEX environments can be made where the risks can be lowered due to source extraction and regular cleaning.

Sometimes, a centralised vacuum system will either not suit the building layout or may not be viable. In such cases high efficiency ATEX-rated mobile equipment can be used as an alternative. These can provide flexibility and the advantage of being able to be deployed quickly as necessary. 

Ultimately, by keeping the work environment clean and safe, businesses in the food industry can minimise the risk of dust explosion, maximise production uptime, increase product quality, and benefit from significant cost savings.
James Miller is the director of Dustcontrol UK. 

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