On August 2nd, reportedly, 75 people were killed and nearly 200 others injured in a combustible dust explosion at a General Motors automotive parts supply factory in eastern China. Preliminary investigations cite that metal dust, likely aluminum, produced from polishing hubcaps ignited, causing the explosion. This tragic event is another reminder that combustible dust remains a serious workplace threat throughout the world and spans many industries.

A major step in preventing combustible dust explosions is education. Facility owners and operators must become educated about combustible dust and fully appreciate its risk factors. Consulting a combustible dust expert to conduct a dust risk assessment and implement reduction measures where dust risks are identified is one way to do just that.

Once a risk assessment has been conducted, periodic audits of facilities for the presence of combustible dust explosion hazards are also a good preventative measure. These audits will allow for facility owners and operators to evaluate the continued effectiveness and applicability of the reduction measures, as well as identify any process changes that may create new hazards.

Training a facility’s management, operations, and maintenance personnel in regards to general awareness of combustible dust explosion risk factors is another important element in the prevention of incidents. In addition, a facility should identify unique fire risks, develop specific emergency response plans for each risk, and thoroughly train key associates from operations, maintenance, and the emergency response team. This will help ensure the activities of operations and maintenance personnel are performed safely and do not start fires. This will also help ensure that incident responses by the emergency response team are carried out with personnel safety as the primary goal.

The tragic incident at the eastern Chinese automotive parts factory highlights the significance of implementing these, and other, efforts in the identification of potential threats to life from dust explosions in the workplace.