If you work in an industrial or manufacturing facility, you need dust collectors to maintain safe operating conditions in which your employees can perform tasks. But without the right preventative measures and fire suppression systems in place, those dust collectors can also pose serious fire hazards, with the possibility of explosion after contact with just one small spark.
So what can you do to prevent that worst-case scenario from happening? Invest in specialized fire protection systems that are designed to combat high-risk industrial fires. Let’s talk more about dust collector fire protection to ensure you’re aware of and prepared for a potential emergency.
What Are Dust Collectors?
First thing’s first — what exactly are dust collectors, and why are they so necessary for manufacturing plants and other industrial facilities?
Dust collectors are large devices that gather dust and other combustible particulate matter (fibers, flakes, chips, etc.) from the air. The air is then filtered, so harmful particulates are separated from the air before it’s reintroduced to the surrounding environment.
Dust collectors are important for industrial spaces that need to filter out hazardous materials and maintain a high level of cleanliness in the air. Examples include anything from agricultural mills, to metal fabrication plants, to food processing factories. In many instances, these facilities are legally required in order to adhere to environmental and workplace safety requirements.
There are different types of dust collectors that each utilize different methods to separate dust from the air. Here are a few of the most common ones:
- Bag collectors
- Cyclone collectors
- Cartridge collectors
- Wet collectors
- Mist-collector scrubbers
- Electrostatic precipitators
Regardless of type, dust collectors are a non-negotiable for any plant dealing with combustibles. And when there’s no way to remove them from the equation, you must put the right fire prevention and suppression systems in place to mitigate risk.
What Fire Hazards Do Dust Collectors Present?
By understanding the fire triangle — fuel, oxygen, and heat — it’s easy to see why dust collectors are at such high risk for fires. They contain the first two elements of the triangle at all times and are highly likely to be exposed to the third.
- Fuel: combustible dust & other debris
- Oxygen: constantly pulled into the dust collector with dust & other debris
- Heat: can stem from friction in various manufacturing processes (welding, grinding, cutting, etc. )
All of this means that dust collectors are one of the biggest contributors to fires and explosions within industrial facilities — and if you’re working inside one every day, that’s not a fact you should ignore. If you continue to operate with the “it won’t happen to me” mentality, you’ll be unprepared in the case of an emergency and unable to stop the fire from spreading.
A quick Google search will show you that numerous facilities experience dust-collector-related fires every year. Reading further can show you just how much damage and hurt those fires can cause if a facility is unprepared to combat them. Just take this Didion Milling Company case for example, which resulted in five deaths, 14 injuries, and a significant amount of property damage.
Dust Collector Fire Protection: What You Need to Know
Fortunately, there have been many other dust collector fires throughout the years that were quickly and safely extinguished. While these fires aren’t entirely preventable, there are some important steps you can take to ensure proper fire protection is in place.
You can find a lot of useful guidance on dust collector regulations in NFPA 654, the National Fire Protection Association’s Standard for the Prevention of Fire and Dust Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing, and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids. OSHA also has its own set of guidelines in Standard 3644-04 2013.
Other than that, it’s important to know which special hazard fire protection systems are most effective in combating dust collector fires.
The 3 Most Effective Fire Protection Systems for Dust Collectors
Dust collector fires can escalate rapidly, so it’s important that you have an automatic fire suppression system to minimize the damage as quickly as possible. Handheld fire extinguishers usually aren’t powerful enough and require human intervention, which can result in serious injury or death.
To effectively combat a dust collector fire, we recommend one of these three types of fire protection systems.
1. High-Pressure Carbon Dioxide System
High-pressure CO2 systems can cover a lot of ground. A single system can effectively put out fires in a large dust collector, especially since CO2 is so cold at discharge.
One challenge with a CO2 system is that, due to its extreme coldness, it can harm people and the environments it comes into contact with. Therefore, it should only be used in applications where those extreme conditions aren’t highly detrimental.
2. Low-Pressure Clean Agent System
Low-pressure clean agent systems are the best fire suppression option for many dust collector applications. This is because clean agents are non-corrosive, non-conductive, and leave no residue upon discharge. Unlike CO2, clean agents won’t harm employees or the surrounding environment.
Another bonus is that clean agents won’t harm your dust collector itself. Instead, you’ll be able to get the machine back up and running soon, meaning minimal downtime for operations.
3. Low-Pressure Dry Chemical System
Low-pressure dry chemical systems are the best choice for combatting Class B fires, which are fires involving flammable liquids and gasses. Dust collector fires can result mainly in Class A fires, but Class B fires are also possible — and dry chemicals are your solution.
Dry chemicals essentially coat your dust collector’s filter, which prevents the fire from spreading. This means that they’re also a great solution when your dust collector’s ventilation cannot quickly be shut down.
Protect Your Facility Against Industrial Fire Risks with Vanguard
Dust collectors are an essential component of any industrial facility. However, they can wind up doing more harm than good if you don’t have the right fire protection systems in place. If you need help choosing, installing, or maintaining your own dust collector fire protection system, our team at Vanguard Fire & Security Systems can help. Give us a call at (800) 444-8719 or contact us online.