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Combustible dust likely factor in fatal industrial explosion

Last month, the lead investigator with the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) stated that "almost certainly" combustible dust contributed to the explosion that killed five workers. The tragic accident occurred on May 31 at Didion Milling, located in Columbia County in the southern portion of the state.

The CSB is authorized by Congress to investigate industrial explosions. They are working in conjunction with state and federal agencies, including the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the State Fire Marshal's Office.

Combustible dust is not a hazard that's unique to this industry. The lead investigator said that they "want to learn what causes safety hazards, and what are the larger safety concerns. We try to understand why an incident happened (and) what we can do to prevent similar incidents."

Thus far, although its investigation is still incomplete, the CSB has spent months inspecting the explosion site, its heavy equipment and the damaged building. They also interviewed multiple witnesses and constructed a computer model of the the explosion and its likely causes. The lead investigator said one goal is to increase understanding of this common industrial hazard.

She also suggested that a possible result of the CSB investigation is that best practices for the industry may be established. Additionally, they may suggest implementation of regulations to help industry professionals develop awareness of the hazards of combustible dust, and how they could potentially be alleviated.

Because the Chemical Safety Board isn't a regulatory agency, its investigation is conducted independently of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) investigation. OSHA levied almost $2 million in penalties against Didion for alleged fire safety shortfalls. The company has filed an appeal.

In a 2009 video, the CSB illustrated what happens after combustible dust explodes. Any industry that works with fine particles that are by-products of materials like wood, food products, plastics, metal, coal, rubber and chemicals that accumulate over time are susceptible to these explosions. One spark can ignite a conflagration as long as oxygen, confinement and dispersion also are factors.

If you lost a loved one in an industrial accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses.

Source: Portage Daily Register, "Federal investigator: Dust likely contributed to Cambria explosion," Lyn Jerde, Jan. 19, 2018

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