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SAFETY GUIDE – Handling Dusts and Powders Safely

Risk assessment for the safe handling of dusts and powders can be far more challenging than that of flammable liquids and gase, which is often viewed as relatively straightforward. This is generally because the relationship between the operating plant basis of safety and the physical properties data for safe handling of dusts and powders are not always fully understood.

Many people are surprised when they first hear that there can be a significant risk of fire and explosion from processing apparently innocuous materials such as icing sugar, aluminium powder and even paracetamol. Process engineers, however, have long been aware of the hazards and risks involved with processing these types of materials and the measures, procedures and training that must be in place in order to operate a safe site. As new materials are developed, engineers must constantly challenge safety assumptions and provide sound risk assessments on how material (and any dust / fines generated during processing or mixing) should be handled and stored. The basis of any risk assessment must be an understanding of the physical properties of the material being handled.
The aim of this guide is to provide a firm foundation to the evaluation of potentially flammable powders and dusts across all industries, with the objective of helping operating companies minimise fire & explosion risk. In the following pages we will develop a strategy for the evaluation of fire hazards, dust explosion hazards and thermal stability hazards associated with these materials. This methodology can be applied to most foreseeable plant situations.
The booklet begins by explaining the conditions for a fire and what conditions may arise in the workplace to convert this process into an explosion. We go on to describe what consideration should be given to establishing a safe operating environment by establishing an operating basis of safety and then what safety data is needed to verify and confirm the key assumptions that underpin the chosen basis of safety.