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Dust Collector Safety

Much of our training is in how to prevent dust explosions. Everyone knows that you need fuel, an ignition source, air, and containment to have an explosion. But, let’s think of the equipment we use to prevent an explosion and some of the challenges we face keeping the elevator below hazardous dust levels.

Most have some sort of dust collection to minimize the amount of dust in the workplace. The two most common types of dust collectors are a dry dust collector, also called a baghouse, and the cyclone dust collector.      

Baghouses have tubes of fabric, often called socks or bags, that filter out the dust and drop it to a conveyor for reclaiming for further use or sale.

Cyclones use centrifugal force to drop dust particles out of the airstream, where they can be reclaimed. This equipment helps keep us safe, but we have to work on or around this equipment to keep it maintained.

Potential Hazards

I have never seen a baghouse that was not a confined space. If you are going into the dust collector for maintenance or repairs, you must use a confined space procedure. 

Keep in mind that if you are not under the federal jurisdiction of OSHA, you need to check your state OSHA codes. 

Confined space entry requirements may differ from the federal rules depending on what state you are working in. Some corporations may have more stringent rules than the government. Make sure you know what rules apply to you.

The concentration of dust is something to consider. You most likely will have to wear a respirator to filter dust out, or you may use a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) to keep your breathing zone clear of dust. Employees must be trained on the proper use of respirators and have a medical clearance to use most types.  

You will be working in tight quarters, so plan the work and where you will stand, so that you do not risk an injury such as a sprain or a fall. Be sure to lockout the dust collector and any associated equipment such as conveyors. Almost all dust collectors use some sort of conveyor to move the dust to storage or further processing. No matter if the conveyor is a drag, a screw, a pneumatic, or another type, it needs to be locked out, if you are working on or near it.

Dust collectors have been known to harbor smoldering material for hours.  In a baghouse, the filter socks could support a fire, if there is an ignition source. It could be a cigarette or cigar butt or maybe a piece of hot slag from welding. Look for the not so obvious ignition source such as fireworks being shot from the top of the elevator. A hot bearing, if gone undetected, can start a fire.

No matter what the ignition source is, if it gets into a dust collector it could smolder away for hours, before it breaks into a fire or ignites ,when the equipment is energized the next day introducing the air source to stoke the fire. 

So when you are working on your dust collector, be sure to take the extra cautions to prevent turning a dust collector into a fire pit.  

Source: Lynn Larsen, president of Safety Solutions Inc., a safety consulting firm in Knoxville, TN; 701-261-9587.


This Safety Tip of the Week is sponsored by: M&M Specialty Services, LLC. 



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Safety Tip of the Week is edited by Managing Editor Tucker Scharfenberg and published each Monday by Grain Journal, Decatur, IL

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