Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Combustible Dust Cleaning

September 19, 2010

Combustible dust, also known as explosive dust, cleaning is a required preventative maintenance program in manufacturing and production facilities to prevent safety hazards, possible fires and explosions.

This type of cleaning also helps preserve proper indoor air quality (IAQ).

Combustible dust is fine particulate dust, which is generated from wood, metal, grain, agricultural, chemical, plastic, paper and carbonaceous products.

Manufacturing and production facilities'' equipment and machinery often pulverize, mill, grind, crush, macerate and cut bulk product.

In return, dust is generated and accumulates on all equipment and facility structure surfaces.

The fine powder dust, which is suspended on higher, inaccessible and unnoticeable surfaces, is the most problematic.

Combustible dust can impact the facility''s workers'' health, leading to illnesses and injuries.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 6.1 percent of private-sector employees suffered 5.7 million workplace injuries and illnesses in 2000.

Forty-six percent of those injury cases required days away from work for recuperation or restricted work activity.

J. Paul Leigh of the Stanford Medical Center notes that businesses spend $170.9 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses — expenditures that come straight out of company profits.

Injuries and illnesses increase workers'' compensation as well as retraining expenses, absenteeism and production faults.

They also decrease productivity, morale and ultimately, profits.

Fortunately, statistics from injury and illness reports filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) show that workplaces that establish safety and health management systems reduce their injury and illness costs by 20-40 percent.

"In today''s competitive business environment," notes OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw on the organization''s website, "the black-and-blue of workplace injuries can be the difference between operating in the black and running in the red."

Where To Target

Some of the cleaning services that may be required to control combustible dust and areas to target include:

  • High ceilings and surfaces
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems
  • Dust collectors
  • Conveyor belts
  • Silo tanks
  • Lab fume hood cleaning
  • Dust control vacuuming.

These services help prevent airborne dust and particulates from accumulating in the manufacturing and production facility.

These services may also help promote equipment longevity, decrease utility costs for operating equipment, increase the brightness of lighting, stabilize insurance rates and allow a greater return on investment on manufacturing equipment.

Combustible dust cleaning should be performed by a certified and trained cleaning company.

The certified cleaning contractor should have the proper industrial and commercial cleaning equipment.

Recommended Equipment

Industrial, explosion-proof, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter equipped vacuums are the main pieces of equipment for this type of cleaning.

Broom sweeping and compressed air is not a viable means of cleaning combustible dust, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 654 Standard.

The act of broom sweeping and compressed air actually stirs up dust and particulates into the air, which may create more issues with sensitive equipment and possible dust explosions.

High-reach equipment, such as high-reach platforms, scissor lifts, articulate booms, scaffolding, fiberglas extension ladders and fiberglas A-frame ladders for the interior work, is necessary.

Standing and portable floodlights may be required for night work and hard-to-see areas.

Performing combustible dust cleaning requires several important procedures.

The first and most important procedure is safety.

Preventing static electricity, sparking and any electrical charge is the first preventative step.

Proper grounding of in-house electrical systems, equipment, forklifts, high-reach equipment, vacuums, extension cords and lighting is mandatory.

Testing and sampling the powder and bulk dust particulate is required to see if the dust particulate is combustible or explosive.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) of each product will be useful in testing the dust.

Safety First

The simple act of dragging a piece of metal across a concrete floor can create a spark, which can lead to a dust explosion.

Proper lock-out/tag-out documentation, slip and fall prevention, high reach and harness protection and confined space awareness are some examples of safety musts.

Donning proper personal protection equipment (PPE), including safety lanyards and harnesses, hard hats, safety glasses, ear protection, disposable gloves, special coveralls and steel toe boots, is essential as well.

Placing orange safety cones and yellow caution tape in working areas is required to inform others of hazardous conditions.

Additionally, preparation is one of the most critical procedures of combustible dust cleaning.

Proper preparation will contain dust and particulate and will alleviate a possibly unhappy customer.

Preparation materials will include covering your customer''s equipment, contents, walls and floors.

The covering will also serve as a containment barrier for any possible recontamination.

Trashcan containers or 55-gallon drums with liners can be used to collect the debris.

Combustible dust cleaning involves several main aspects of cleaning.

First, always work from ceiling to walls to floor.

The actual cleaning and removing of dust and particulate buildup will consist of several cleaning techniques and methods.

Cleaning and removing grease and particulate buildup should be performed by HEPA vacuuming and/or mechanical wet wiping.

This portion of cleaning should be performed under containment to prevent any cross contamination of other areas and equipment.

Mechanical cleaning procedures are based on parameters set by the NFPA, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the National Air Duct Cleaning Association (NADCA), the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the American Biorecovery Association (ABRA), the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) and OSHA.

Not all cleaning vendors are alike in safe cleaning procedures, techniques, quality and pricing.

Be aware of vendors who only clean using dirty rags, brooms, push brooms, compressed air, dustpans and contaminated cleaning equipment.

Facility owners should ask the vendor they hire to provide a liability insurance and workers'' compensation certificate.

Photos of past work can document in detail the quality cleaning the vendor has performed.

A certificate of completion for combustible dust cleaning is also required for insurance policies.

In addition, a clean and safe facility is important for worker morale.


Jon Barrett is the business development specialist with Interior Maintenance Company Inc., located in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. He is: NFPA and Fire Protection Research Foundation trained for Explosive Dust Cleaning; Chilworth Technology trained for Dust Explosion Inspection; an Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) technician; and American BioRecovery Association (ABRA) certified technician in several categories. Jon is also an International Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning (IKECA)-Professional Exhaust Cleaning technician. He can be reached at Jon@imc.cc or by phone at 267-886-7903.