Beware dust explosions in bucket elevators

Paul Boughton

A global provider of bespoke explosion vents and flameless venting units for bucket elevators warns process industries of the dangers of dust explosions originating from the commonly used bucket elevator.

Fike UK urges companies to ensure appropriate equipment and technologies are in place to mitigate the disastrous effects caused by grain elevator explosions.

Keith Avila, General Manager at Fike UK said: “In the food process industry alone, approximately 50% of explosions have originated in bucket elevators. Installing appropriate prevention and protection measures will eliminate the potential risks associated with dust explosions, such as severe plant destruction and downtime, loss of production and in worse case scenarios, injury or loss of life.”

Dust explosions can occur when a high concentration of dust is present in the atmosphere. These dusts can either be created from the product that is being processed or the by-product of attrition from materials handled. Being unseen, dust is often not treated with the degree of caution that is required.

There are two methods to avoid dust explosions – prevention and protection. As independent concepts, prevention systems help to minimise the risk of an event happening, whilst protection systems reduce the effects of the explosion when it does happen. According to Fike it is best to have both regimes in place.

Keith said: “If a dust explosion occurs, the cost in terms of time, upheaval and any financial implications incurred due to both production downtime and plant damage - can be huge - for any company. A decision has to be made by every company based on how substantial the hazard is in relation to how far you go to mitigate the resultant risk.”

Fike recommend companies follow best practice in health and safety by utilising the hierarchy of hazard control. According to the industry experts this will assist in determining the level of equipment needed to protect against dust explosions originating in bucket elevators.

The hierarchy consists of – elimination, isolation, control, PPE and discipline (ERIC PD) – which has a direct correlation to the levels of protection currently available for elevator protection. A company’s safety record is significantly improved at each level as they move further along the ERIC PD hazard control path.

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