Combustible Dust Hazards: Is Your Facility Compliant with OSHA Standards?

The Environmental, Health, and Safety Department at Printing Industries of America offers advice on the control and cleaning of combustible dust, a top priority for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The control of combustible dust has become a top priority for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and they are focusing on many industries—including printing operations—where combustible dust is generated. Combustible dust can be generated by several activities involved with printing and binding, including cutting paper, perfect binding, finishing operations, material handling activities, deteriorating building materials, and use of offset spray powder.

The generation, handling, and accumulation of combustible dust present both a fire and explosion hazard, and it must be managed to prevent a hazardous situation. In addition, excessive dust can cause problems with product quality and premature wear of motors, especially around motor sleeves. As a result of many fires and explosions occurring due to combustible dust, OSHA initiated a National Emphasis Program designed to target companies that generate, use, or handle combustible dusts and to cite them for violating OSHA standards. Individual printing and bindery operations are a target and have been inspected and cited for violations.

A first step to address combustible dust hazards is to evaluate your current condition. This involves determining first whether you generate combustible dust and second whether there is an accumulation of dust that would exceed OSHA’s threshold for a hazardous environment., OSHA uses a combustible dust threshold of 1/32 of an inch (the thickness of a paper clip) over 5% of horizontal surfaces. If your dust accumulation exceeds this threshold, it is very likely that you have a combustible dust hazard situation that needs to be addressed.

The two basic responses required are “cleaning” and “control.” Cleaning involves an initial cleaning of all dust in the area(s) or the entire facility and then implementing a regular cleaning schedule to keep the area(s) dust-free, or at least at or below the OSHA threshold. Control involves determining whether the equipment or operation is designed properly for the activities and performing regular inspection and maintenance of equipment and/or operations that have been identified as generating or contributing to combustible dust, such as dust collection systems, balers, production equipment, etc. With both cleaning and control activities, the efforts should be documented to show proof that the activities are implemented as policy within the company. Although these efforts cannot keep an OSHA inspection from occurring, it can help eliminate or greatly reduce the chances of receiving an OSHA citation

For a helpful reminder toward safety in the production environments, the EHS Department has developed a series of safety posters. One poster addresses the topic of reducing combustible dust and can be displayed in key areas to remind employees to always clean their areas, monitor the accumulation of dust levels, and inspect and maintain the equipment that can contribute to the combustible dust. Members can download the safety posters for free at http://www.printing.org/safetyposters.

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