Combustible Dust Standards: How to Ensure Compliance with OSHA and NFPA

Combustible dust standards are in place to limit the serious hazard posed by the accumulation of fine particulate matter that is generated in certain industrial production environments. OSHA safety regulations and NFPA dust collection guidelines incorporate preventive strategies designed to hinder the concentration of combustible dust in manufacturing plants and facilities before deflagration, flash fires, or dangerous explosions occur. 

Understanding the Purpose of Combustible Dust Standards

OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and NFPA, the National Fire Prevention Association, function, in part, to ensure that safe and healthy work conditions for employees are met in a workplace. OSHA guidelines, standards, and regulations essentially follow the codes and standards issued by the NFPA. NFPA is an international nonprofit organization that promotes safety standards and is considered the source for fire and electrical-related hazards and prevention. The association’s breadth and depth of research into safety standards are exhaustive. Though compliance with NFPA is voluntary, it is not uncommon for NFPA worded standards to be incorporated into codes and regulations issued by state or federal OSHA agencies, which are not voluntary.

With regard to combustible dust, OSHA standards place limits on dust accumulation in facilities. Industries need to maintain control of such hazards being posed to workers. Its National Emphasis Program for combustible dust allows OSHA inspectors to investigate plants and facilities that may have dust problems. OSHA does not have a particular standard for how the dust is removed—they do not regulate dust collector systems—the concern is only that the dust needs to be removed by employers or they must take presumptive measures to protect workers from the harmful effects of dust.

One result of taking presumptive measures was the concept of “engineering control” as a solution to limit combustible dust hazards. Though OSHA does not require dust collectors in facilities, for industries, the term engineering control has come to represent the use of dust collector systems to be in compliance with dust exposure limits that have been specifically set to protect workers. 

OSHA, then, views industrial dust collection systems as presumptive measures needed to limit risks in and around such facilities where combustible dust is generated. Employees, personnel, visitors, as well as people in nearby businesses or neighboring residents, and first responders are at risk where dust accumulates. Loss of property—equipment and machinery—even the facility itself—can be destroyed if a fire or explosion occurs. 

How an Industrial Dust Collection System Can Help Ensure Compliance

Dust collectors are necessary because some of the most common “harmless” materials used by many industries for production hold combustible properties when in powdered, concentrated forms. Industrial environments like agricultural facilities, food processing plants, furniture factories, and woodworking facilities, textile manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, pharmaceutical production, metal processing plants, coal-fired plants, recycling plants, and metalworking all produce, generate or require finely ground organic and inorganic materials during production processes. Dust created by the material—foods like sugar, starch, and flour or products such as paper, pulp, and plastics, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals, even metallic shavings from zinc, aluminum, or titanium—once airborne and combined with other gasses within a facility, can easily deflagrate, catch fire, and explode. 

Types of Combustible Dust Standards

Mandatory federal OSHA standards include provisions that address certain aspects of combustible dust hazards. While some provisions are industry-wide, others are industry-specific. OSHA Standards addressing combustible dust hazards are published under General Industry (29 CFR 1910) standards. Some target special industries like pulp, paper, and paperboard mills, bakery equipment, sawmills, electric power generation, and grain handling facilities. General Industry regulations are based on or inspired by the numerous NFPA standards published to aid engineers in the design of engineering control systems and to ensure compliance with OSHA standards. These NFPA standards are: 

  • NFPA-652-2019: Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust
  • NFPA-654-2020: Standard for the Prevention of Fire and Dust Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing, and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids
  • NFPA-68-2018: Standard on Explosion Protection by Deflagration Venting
  • NFPA-69-2019 Standard on Explosion Prevention Systems
  • NFPA-61-2017: Standard for the Prevention of Fires and Dust Explosions in Agricultural and Food Processing Facilities
  • NFPA-484-2019: Standard for Combustible Metals
  • NFPA-664-2017: Standard for the Prevention of Fires and Explosions in Wood Processing and Woodworking Facilities
  • NFPA-70-2017: National Electrical Code (NEC)

Industrial dust collection systems ensure facilities are in compliance with OSHA regulations and NFPA standards, and, more importantly, mitigate the hazards and risks from combustible dust accumulation, As dust collector systems act to filter particulate matter generated by plants and facilities, each dust collection and explosion protection solution should be designed according to what makes sense for a particular plant, with consideration to the specific application and process conditions. When implementing or designing a collection system it is recommended to follow standards established by NFPA. 

Contact the Experts at CPE Filters, Inc.

Knowing how to filter combustible dust with the right dust collection system requires a high degree of expertise. Choose a design team with proven experience. At CPE Filters, Inc. we offer a full range of equipment and services for the containment and collection of dust, fumes and dry particulate matter to ensure your company remains in compliance with OSHA and NFPA standards. To learn more about our equipment and services, please contact us today.