On Wednesday May 31, 2017 a powerful explosion destroyed much of a corn mill located in Cambria, Wisconsin. According to Fox 6 Now three workers were killed in the blast with the fourth victim succumbing to his injuries on June 6th, 2017. Along with the four fatalities, eleven others were injured in the explosion. An investigation into the cause of the blast is underway but the cause of the explosion is unknown at this time. However one potential cause that is being investigated is a dust explosion.
Dust explosion are typically caused when a cloud of combustible dust reaches a critical concentration and is ignited by some energy source. Once ignited, the dust cloud rapidly burns and, if it occurs in an enclosed space, results in a rapid pressure increase and an explosion. Large amounts of combustible dust are present in many workplaces, especially in facilities that handle grain, but the risk is frequently underestimated. According to NFPA 652 it is the responsibility of the owner/operator of a facility to conduct a Dust Hazard Analysis (DHA) to determine the risks present in their facility and to develop and implement a plan to manage those risks. This plan also needs to include training for all employees and contractors so that they can recognize the risks created by combustible dust.
No matter what caused the explosion in Wisconsin, it should remind all of us that risks are present in our workplaces. Safety is not just the first agenda item in a meeting: it needs to be part of our everyday procedures and every task we perform. All of us, from the CEO on down to the newest untrained employee, need to be on the lookout for the hazards around us. This is especially true if the hazard is a combustible dust. Because if a dust explosion occurs, it will likely have devastating consequences.