It Takes Training to See the Risk in Dust

It Takes Training to See the Risk in Dust


Combustible dust is a significant risk factor for explosions and flash fires. According to insurer FM Global, the damages and human injury costs are very high. The combustible dust accidents their clients suffered between 2007 and 2011 totaled an estimated $336 million in losses, an average of $5.3 million per occurrence. Between 1980 and 2022, over 1,180 injuries and 194 fatalities were caused by 495 combustible dust incidents in the United States.

The risk of combustible dust fires and explosions affects all dust-producing facilities in the food and beverage, textiles, plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and the mining industry. To get a sense of the magnitude of a dust explosion, read what the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) Investigations Manager Stephen Selk, P.E., said during a public meeting on the investigation of the 2008 sugar refinery explosion:

“When a dust explosion occurs in a building, walls may blow out, floors may heave, and ceilings may collapse. This can all occur in a few seconds. It is therefore not unusual for local fire protection and electrical systems to be almost instantly crippled. Occupants may at first find themselves burned, or blown about, or struck, or among rubble. At worst they may experience all of that. At first they may find themselves in darkness or the obscurity of smoke. But fires initiated by the thermal energy of the explosion may follow and grow.”

Milestone Investigations

These eight incidents were investigated by the CSB. Altogether, 41 individuals lost their lives, and 142 more were injured.

Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plant

On January 29, 2003, an explosion and fire destroyed a North Carolina pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, causing six deaths, dozens of injuries, and hundreds of job losses.

Fiberglass Insulation Manufacturing Plant

On February 20, 2003, an explosion and fire damaged a Kentucky fiberglass insulation manufacturing plant, fatally injuring seven workers.

Automotive Parts Manufacturer

On October 29, 2003, a series of explosions severely burned two workers, injured a third, and caused property damage to an automotive parts manufacturer in Indiana.

Sugar Refinery

On February 7, 2008, a huge explosion and fire occurred at a sugar refinery in Georgia, causing 14 deaths and injuring 38 others, including 14 with serious and life-threatening burns.

Titanium Plant

On December 9, 2010, an explosion at a titanium plant in West Virginia fatally injured three workers.

Powdered Metals Plant

In 2011, three accidents occurred at a powdered metals plant in Gallatin, TN, where flash fires and an explosion killed five workers and injured three others.

Ink Facility

On October 9, 2012, an explosion and fire injured seven workers at an ink facility.

Milling Facility

On May 31, 2017, an explosion and fire at a dry corn milling facility in Wisconsin killed five employees and injured 14 others.

A lack of hazard recognition, dust hazard analysis, incident investigation, engineering controls, operating procedures, process safety information, and training were consistently linked as the root causes.

Failure to Learn

There is the potential for multiple combustible dust incidents to happen in the same facility. Pamela Nelson, CCPSC, has led Process Hazard Analyses (PHA) studies for many years and has regularly faced team members who are adamant that a proposed scenario is invalid or too farfetched. Most, if not all, PHA and DHA facilitators and scribes have heard over the years of examples like these. Maybe you have heard these same words.

  • “I have worked here 35 years, and that has never happened.”
  • “We have procedures and have trained our operators to follow them. They will never make an error like that.”

Unfortunately, failure to learn from past incidents is a common obstacle to driving continuous process safety improvement. Read this AIChE article Denials, Delusions, and Bias to better understand why people fail to learn from prior incidents, both at their own company and those from other industries.

Learning Is Key to Safety

A sound process safety culture encourages and supports a questioning and learning environment. By emphasizing learning in both routine work-related activities as well as accidents and incidents, a learning culture will encourage a sense of belonging and significance among workers, increasing the chance that they will share knowledge and learn from one another.

During worker interviews following the combustible dust fires, incident investigators found a common lack of understanding of the hazards and difficulty seeing beyond their own experiences. All combustible dust post-incident recommendations from the CSB identify training as key to risk mitigation. According to the Dust Hazard Learning Review report, people affected by dust-related hazards commented, “Learning should be considered as important as dust control as it serves as the trigger for most safety operations, including housekeeping."

Dust Hazards Fundamentals Course


Understanding why dust is hazardous, the factors leading to fires and explosions, and preventative and mitigative actions are the first steps in controlling these hazards. Learn how to investigate and manage potential combustible dusts at your facility. This course is designed to prepare you with an awareness and understanding of dust hazards to prevent dust incidents. Combining methodology and real-world incidents with regulation, industry standards, and best practices, this course aims to equip learners with the knowledge and information needed to develop a safer work environment and a framework for implementing effective safeguards against combustible dust. View the agenda and register now.

View the Agenda and Register

Learners can incrementally build competencies in process safety and earn their certification in dust hazards online on the Process Safety Learning® (PSL) platform. With eLearning, travel expenses and time lost from project work are eliminated. All PSL courses are developed by process safety experts and industry-recognized ioMosaic leaders so you can trust the quality of training. Our policies and processes have been thoroughly benchmarked against the ANSI/IACET Standard for Continuing Education and Training.

We Can Help

Facilities can be overwhelmed by the task of addressing combustible dust issues where excessive testing, costly investment in equipment modifications, confusing OSHA and NFPA requirements, and the uncertainty of the hazard all contribute to anxiety. ioMosaic understands the safety and risk processes for mitigating dust hazards and delivers practical, locally compliant solutions to our client's safety and risk concerns. Call us today at 1.844.ioMosaic or send us a note. We'd love to hear from you.