According to Manufacturing & Technology eJournal, sweeping or blowing of fugitive dust during housekeeping is widely discouraged by U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 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.

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.

In response to OSHA’s Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (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.

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.

According to reports, 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.

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 shovels.”

In addition, most NFPA standards referenced in the combustible dust SHIP recommend vacuum cleaning as the preferred first defense method for controlling fugitive dust.  NFPA 654 states, “vigorous sweeping or blowing down with steam or compressed air produces dust clouds and shall be permitted only where the following requirements are met: (1) Area and equipment shall be vacuumed prior to blow-down.”

Further reading of the standard reads “vigorous sweeping or blowing down with steam or compressed air should only take place after the area or equipment has been vacuumed due to the creation of dust clouds by the other methods.

Respiratory, Slip and Ergonomic Hazards
When dusts hang in the air for longer periods, they can exacerbate respiratory threats. Silica exposure can lead to silicosis, a lung disease caused by continued inhalation of siliceous minerals that are prevalent in glass, brick, cement, asphalt, ceramic, and metal fabrication industries where sand is used as a component or for blasting, as well as in tunneling operations.

“Silica, of course, is only one of the powders that pose respiratory threats to workers,” says Kennedy.  “To combat those, we can provide a second HEPA filter rated 99.97% on particle size to 0.3 microns.”

Fugitive dust and debris is a housekeeping issue that plagues most industries.  Working with a vacuum cleaner manufacturer that is intimate with chemical characteristics produces the best outcome for facilities combating fugitive dust. Most vacuum cleaning solutions that are employed to combat fugitive dust aren’t considered capital expenditures and can be purchased as pre-engineered solutions designed for specific powder characteristics, quickly bringing facilities into compliance not only for explosion hazards, but for other dust and debris related housekeeping issues that pose respiratory, slip, and ergonomic hazards.

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