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Sweeping Dust and Debris Could Blow Your Safety Rating


Sweeping or blowing of fugitive dust during housekeeping is widely discouraged by OSHA and the NFPA for nearly all industries.  Seemingly benign, dusts create an assortment of hazards that include flying particles that can lead to eye injury, slip hazards and ergonomic injuries.  The most serious hazards surrounding the sweeping and blowing of dust threaten lives, such as respiratory and explosion hazards.  The use of vacuums to remove dust is almost always recommended as a preferred method of removing fugitive dust. Rather than redistributing dust, industrial vacuum cleaners remove dusts and therefore reduce or eliminate the previously mentioned hazards.

(Pictured to the left: Off-the-shelf compressed-air powered vacuums are suitable-for-service certification in Class II, Division 2 environments, due to their bumper-to-bumper grounded and bonded designs).

Certainly, the most dramatic hazard associated with dust is secondary explosion.  So dramatic that it captured the attention of congress which led to bill that  directed OSHA to “issue an interim combustible dust rule and an amendment to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) in 90 days, and a final rule in 18 months,” according to OSHA’s Combustible Dust; Advance notice of proposed rulemaking.


With over 4900 violations associated with OSHA’s Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP), the recent news releases about the organization leveling fines at four companies ranging from $63,000 to $137,000 just this year, and increasing local television coverage of combustible dust violations, it should now be clear that OSHA is serious about enforcing current standards.

In response to OSHA’s NEP, many facility and safety managers have revamped their housekeeping practices and added industrial vacuum cleaners approved for use in Class II Div II areas to mitigate the possibility of secondary explosions caused by fugitive dust.

However, of the over 1000 inspections that OSHA has completed, only 18 to 22 percent of the facilities were in compliance with OSHA requirements.

“It can sometimes be tough for facilities,” says David Kennedy, GM for VAC-U-MAX’s vacuum cleaning division. “They may have gotten approval from the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) but OSHA can still come in and fine them if they deem that the facility doesn’t meet up to combustible dust standards.”

VAC-U-MAX, the leading manufacturer of industrial vacuum cleaning systems for production lines and other dust-intensive areas, developed the first air-operated industrial vacuum cleaner to prevent dust explosions.

Although it can be argued that current OSHA standards are ambiguous, hence OSHA’s proposed rulemaking on combustible dust, the standards, however daunting to sift through, are clearly noted in OSHA’s Safety and Health Information Bulletin entitled Combustible Dust in Industry:  Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Fire and Explosions that was first issued 5 years ago.

Since OSHA is taking strong enforcement actions to address combustible dust hazards, facilities must make reasonable efforts to mitigate combustible dust hazards. To assist companies in understanding OSHA requirements, VAC-U-MAX has developed a website, www.combustibledustvacs.com, dedicated to combustible dust hazards, including OSHA documents referencing the hazards and compliance.


According to the Status report, housekeeping ranked second in citations under the NEP “with respect to combustible dust related hazards.”   In addition to accumulations of combustible dust being prevalent among the violations, blowing dust with an air compressor, and not using electrical equipment that was designed for hazardous (classified) locations were also among the top violations related to combustible dust related hazards.

“There is no single standard, or one vacuum cleaner that can meet the requirements for all combustible dust,” says Kennedy.  “Companies really need someone who has intimate knowledge of how chemicals react in certain environments and is experienced in NFPA standards to help them choose the right Class II Div 2 vacuum cleaner.” 

Compliance

Although, OSHA’s 1910.22 has no specific wording that  specifically address fugitive dust, the status report states, “housekeeping standard at 29 C.F.R. 1910.22 not only applies to typical housekeeping hazards but also applies to dust accumulation hazards.”

There are other OSHA standards such as Dust Control Handbook For Minerals Processing and OSHA’s Grain Handling Facilities Standard or the Mine Safety and Health Act regulations for coal mines that do address fugitive dust and suggest that operations “eliminate the use of compressed air jets to clean accumulated dust from the equipment or clothing and substitute a vacuum cleaning system” and “use a vacuum cleaning system to clean spills and dust accumulations.  Avoid brooms and


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