How flammable are sugar and sugar dust

The danger of dust explosions in practice

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Some people make a questionable statement: "Dust explosion? Oh yes, there are some regulations, I've heard. It's all theory. Well, nothing has ever happened in my company until now!" One can only say: I was lucky. But when a dust explosion happens, things look different for everyone involved!

Buildings and systems can be replaced - but human lives cannot. Once there is a dust explosion, there is a lot of human suffering associated with it. Often people come to kiss the hand who are not informed or instructed. They do their job - and suddenly the building explodes!

Take a sugar factory as an example. Sugar is eaten all over the world. There are sugar factories in many areas where sugar beet or sugar cane is grown. Also in Germany and Austria. There are sugar silos, conveyor belts and buildings in these plants. Sugar and sugar dust can collect there anywhere.

Sugar is an organic dust that can even become electrically charged. All you have to do is vacuum up the sugar and you will find yourself getting an electric shock if you use a regular vacuum hose.

A small spark is enough and the entire sugar factory is destroyed by a dust explosion.

But there is also enough risk potential in practice in many other factories and businesses. Think, for example, of a paint shop that handles solvents. Or where paint is sanded. But flour can also cause a dust explosion in a bakery. So that there is no damage to people or buildings, the protective measures against a dust explosion are regulated in the VEXAT directive.

When does the danger of a dust explosion occur particularly often?
The dust explosion can occur wherever organic and combustible dusts are handled.

You need 3 conditions for this:

  1. explosive, organic or combustible dust,
  2. a dust-air concentration and
  3. Ignition energy, for example through temperature, ignition sparks, electrical charging.

Think about your business. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Where do explosive, flammable dusts arise in my company?
  2. Is there anything on the safety data sheet of my material supplier about the explosiveness of the substance in question?
  3. Do ignition sparks, electrical or electrostatic charges or special explosive mixtures occur in the areas in which explosive dusts are used?
  4. Can I prevent a dust explosion hazard from occurring in this area?
  5. Have I already taken the appropriate technical measures to prevent an explosion?
  6. Have I already localized and assessed the dangers through a risk assessment?
  7. Do I already have a zone plan?
  8. Can the supplier of the machine or system present me with a corresponding ATEX certificate?
  9. Have my employees received appropriate safety training in accordance with VEXAT?

In which areas is there a frequent risk of a dust explosion?
Basically, it should be noted that a dust explosion occurs wherever the three factors such as explosive dusts, dust-air concentration and ignition energy interact.

In practice, this takes place in the following areas:

  • Dust deposits on and in pipes
  • Dust build-up on the floor
  • Dust deposits on surfaces or in niches
  • Dust deposits on and in machines
  • Machines that produce dust. Grinding machines and polishing machines are examples here.
  • Systems used to produce powder.
  • Silos or storage facilities in which explosive dusts are stored. Examples of this would be feed silos, sugar silos, flour silos, sawdust silos, etc.
  • Foundries for aluminum, titanium and similar metals
  • Dust collector
  • Filter boxes of suction systems and dedusting systems

The list is certainly not yet complete and can be expanded as required.

Always consider the risk of a dust explosion in your risk assessment! No matter how harmless it looks. The effect of a dust explosion is fatal in practice! In your company, you are responsible for ensuring that the VEXAT directive is implemented so that your work areas remain safe.

Link tip: Check out this award-winning film on the real-life effects of a dust explosion!

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