Dust is made up of solid particles that can become airborne. These particles can range in size from under one µm up to approximately 100 µm. Dust can come from a variety of substances and can often be hazardous to the health of those breathing it in on a regular basis. Hazardous types of dust can come from minerals, metals, chemicals, wood, flour, mold and more.
As the World Health Organization points out, overexposure to dust in the workplace can lead to various diseases, disabilities and in the worst cases, even deaths. Besides being a health hazard, dust can cause a whole host of other problems. In a manufacturing facility, dust can compromise the quality of products. Since many types of dust are combustible, it can also present a fire hazard. Furthermore, an overabundance of dust can hurt the environment.
To prevent these issues, manufacturers need to remove dust from their working environments. A dust collection system is the only effective means of removing dust from the air. Dust collection systems take dust and other impurities out of the air so they are removed before they can settle on surfaces or be breathed in by workers. A dust collector can greatly improve the environment in an industrial facility, but if you don’t use your dust collection system properly, you could introduce new hazards.
In this post, we’ll look at eight dust collection safety tips that can help you get the most out of your industrial dust collection system and keep your facility and workers safe.
1. Choose the Right Type of Dust Collection System
To get the most out of a dust collector and keep the air clear of contaminants, you want to choose the right dust collection system for your facility. Dust collectors come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but there are five main types of industrial dust collectors:
- Inertial separators
- Baghouses (also called fabric filters)
- Wet scrubbers
- Unit collectors
- Electrostatic precipitators
There is no one right answer when it comes to the best dust collection system. It all depends on your dust collection needs and your particular facility. Here are some factors you’ll want to consider to select the best dust collection system for your business:
- Type of Dust: The type(s) of dust your operations produce is an important determiner in choosing the right dust collector. For example, dust that contains moisture or oil needs a mist collector rather than a dust collector designed for dry dust. Some types of dust, like silica sand, can be abrasive to dry centrifugal collectors, a type of inertial separator. If the dust is combustible in nature, as many are, an electrostatic precipitator is an unsafe choice.
- Dust Particle Size and Concentration: Not all dust particles are the same size, and not all facilities have the same concentration of dust in the air without a collector. You want to make sure your dust collection system can effectively handle the size of your facility’s dust particles and the amount of dust in the air.
- Space Requirements: A logistical factor to consider is the amount of space you have to install a dust collector. Ideally, you should design your facility’s size and layout with a dust collection system in mind so there’s plenty of room for it, but if you have limited space, choose a dust collector that will fit in your facility.
- Airstream Characteristics: Airstream refers to the dust-laden air that is sucked into the dust collector. Consider the air that will enter your dust collector. What is the temperature? If it’s over 180°F, cotton fabric filters cannot be used. Is the air humid enough to blind bags? Are there any chemicals in the air that could damage certain materials in a dust collector?
- Disposal Methods: Dust collection systems must dispose of the dust they collect, and they do so in different ways. They can unload in batches or can do so continuously. Keep in mind that dust disposal is an important aspect of the dust collection process since it can allow dust to become a problem yet again if the dust is not disposed of properly.
2. Observe the Work Environment and Layout
Being strategic about your facility’s layout is always important. A smart layout should contribute to increased efficiency since the workflow will make sense, and time won’t be wasted with workers having to cross the factory floor to grab parts or tools they need for a job they’re working on over on the other side of the facility.
While a strategic layout should be focused on optimizing workflow, this shouldn’t be your only concern. The way your work environment is laid out also has an effect on safety, including when it comes to dust. For example, machines that create a lot of dust shouldn’t be placed near machines that put out heat since this could lead to an explosion.
When choosing the best layout for your facility, keep safety a top priority. Efficiency is a worthy goal, but it should not trump safety. Specifically, think through which machines get hot and which produce dust, and separate these as far apart as you can.
3. Check Equipment Regularly
Routine checks are a critical means of making sure equipment is consistently in good working order. You also want to periodically evaluate your current equipment to determine whether you need to make any upgrades.
For example, in a food manufacturing facility, older mixers can contribute to a dust problem since they require you to add ingredients over the side or to a hopper. An upgrade to a new mixer that has you add powders to the bottom instead of top could help tremendously and make things easier on your dust collector.
Your dust collector itself may need an upgrade, too. Inspect your dust collector and look for any of the following potential issues that could signal it’s time for an upgrade:
- Is the ductwork leaking or cracked anywhere?
- Do the connections in ductwork carry air efficiently?
- Does the collector inlet get backed up sometimes?
- Are your capture hoods the wrong size or shape to collect dust efficiently?
- Do you have too few hoods to carry the maximum load you produce?
- Does your filter fail to capture a finer particulate?
If you find a weak point in your system, it may be time to upgrade that particular component or possibly your whole system.
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4. Learn Fire Prevention Best Practices
One of the most significant hazards dust presents is a potential fire or explosion. An ignition source only needs fuel and oxygen to start a fire. If the fire is in a contained area that has enough dust suspended in the air, an explosion could occur. Understanding how fires and explosions can start is the first step. Next, you need to take steps to prevent fires from starting in your facility. Consider both potential ignition sources in your facility and fuel, which in this case is dust.
Ignition sources tend to come from sparks. Sparks can fly from an overheated motor, a blunt tool or many other sources. A spark detection and extinguishment system can help to keep these sparks from becoming a problem. There are many different technological tools to choose from for containing sparks, such as arrestors or flame-retardant filter media.
A sprinkler system also helps to stop fires before they have a chance to spread. Of course, the sprinklers only come on after a fire has started, and the water they spray could damage some equipment, so this shouldn’t be your first line of defense.
As for your dust collector, the best type of dust collector for fire prevention is one that uses vertically-mounted cartridges. Dust can build up on horizontally-mounted filters which creates prime conditions for sparks to ignite. On the other hand, cartridges that are mounted vertically don’t experience this problem.
5. Maintain Filters and Change Them Regularly
If your dust collection system uses filters, make sure you change them regularly. If filters become overburdened, they will no longer work efficiently, and, as we’ve just learned, they can also present a fire hazard. Changing filters can sometimes be a hazard in itself, but this necessary process can be made safer.
Dust collectors shouldn’t require workers to enter to change filters. While many newer dust collectors that use cartridges are designed in such a way that they don’t require entry, older ones may still require entry. This is dangerous to workers. Not only is inhalation a problem, but some overhead filters can also be so heavy that manually pulling them out could cause injury.
It’s much better if you can simply slide out a filter and never have to enter the dust collector. Bag-in/bag-out or collection drums protect works and reduces the amount of dust that reenters the air when filters are changed out.
Especially if the dust that’s being collected in your facility is hazardous, it’s best if you can use filters that don’t need to be changed as often. Some filters are guaranteed to have an extended life. Using these filters can cut down on worker exposure to dust and can make your dust collection systems more sustainable for the environment since you’ll be disposing of fewer filters.
6. Focus on Emissions
Of course, you want to keep your facility and your workers safe, but your own concerns about dust aren’t the only ones that need to be factored in. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have established standards for keeping emissions at a minimum. You must also pay attention to any state environmental regulations that apply to your business.
Once you know the regulations you must comply with, you must create what is known as a Compliance Assurance Monitoring (CAM) plan that explains how your facility will meet these standards.
Regulations for particulate emissions will likely become stricter in the future, so it’s a good idea to think in terms of going above and beyond just meeting current standards. Modern monitoring methods can help you determine how you’re doing on emissions.
Some people refer to the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating to get an idea of a filter’s initial efficiency. However, this rating doesn’t take many factors into account that can affect emissions, so it’s not the best way of determining how efficient a dust collector will be.
The weight per unit volume of air, known as mass density efficiency, is the most accurate predictor of a filter’s air quality. Ask the filtration manufacturer to provide you with a written guarantee that specifies the grains per cubic foot or milligrams per cubic meter you can expect.
7. Add Safety Accessories
Big concerns like the type of dust collection system you use and how you maintain it should take precedence, but once you’ve addressed these concerns, there are other ways you can make your dust collection system safer. Safety accessories are a great way to do this. They aren’t just a good idea — in some cases, they are an absolute must to ensure the safety of workers.
Here are a few examples of safety accessories you may want to add:
- Safety platforms and caged ladders to help workers safely access the collector.
- Lock-out/tag-out doors to keep doors from opening accidentally and causing injury or dust exposure.
- Bag-in/bag-out (BIBO) containment systems are necessary when dust is toxic to protect workers from being exposed to dust.
The right accessories could make the difference between hazardous and safe conditions. Just make sure all accessories you add comply with OSHA requirements.
8. Utilize Pulse-Cleaning Controls
The way you clean your dust collection system is also important. The filter design in your dust collector will determine the design of its cleaning system. Dust collectors have cleaning controls that allow you to choose the best way to clean filters. There are three basic types of cleaning you can try:
- Continuous Cleaning: Continuous cleaning is best when you’re filtering porous dust, such as those that come from minerals, or when you’re filtering lightweight dust. It’s also a good option for high dust loading applications. If it isn’t necessary, however, it uses a lot of energy, which in turn costs you a lot of money. It could also cause filters to be over-cleaned, which can compromise their lifespan.
- On-Demand Cleaning: This method of cleaning works well in most cases. The operator sets a range of differential pressures that determine when the cleaning will activate and when it will stop. Unlike downtime cleaning, this method can detect when cleaning is necessary rather than automatically come on at a certain time, making it a better option when the dust load is inconsistent. This cleaning setting optimizes efficiency and can help extend the life of filters since it prevents overcleaning.
- Downtime Cleaning: Downtime cleaning involves setting a time for cleaning, typically once a plant shift has ended or some other stretch of downtime. Once the system is finished cleaning, it will shut off. This is to prevent over-cleaning, which wastes energy, can reduce the life of cartridges and can lead to higher emissions.
Trust Fluid-Aire Dynamics to Keep Your Compressed Air & Dust Collection Systems Operating Smoothly
As we’ve seen, dust can cause some serious problems, which is why dust collection is such an important aspect of your business’s commitment to safety. Collecting dust isn’t enough, though. You need to make sure your equipment and your practices all help you get the most out of your dust collection system and eliminate dust in the safest way possible. Taking these safety steps we’ve discussed can help you stay safe and prevent an emergency in your facility.
With over 30 years of successful solutions for our clients, Fluid-Aire Dynamics has the expertise necessary to help any businesses, big or small, that use compressed air or gas. Our product line includes high-quality dust collection equipment that can help you collect dust efficiently and safely. Contact us today to learn more about we can help equip your business for success!