The number of grain dust explosions in the United States fell to a 10-year low in 2016, but two of the incidents resulted in the first fatalities since 2013, according to an annual report released by Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.
There were five grain dust explosions in 2016, compared to eight in 2015 and a 10-year average of 9.2 per year. One of the explosions occurred in a feed mill, two in grain mills and two in grain elevators. Grain dust was confirmed as the main source of fuel in three of the incidents, but could not be confirmed in two of the others. Eight people were injured nationwide.
“The two most important factors in preventing an explosion are keeping the facilities clean and keeping the equipment in good working condition,” said Kingsly Ambrose, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue, and author of the report. “If the facility is clean, then there is no dust to burn. If the equipment is in good working condition, there is less chance of ignition.”
Performing regularly scheduled equipment maintenance is a key first step in preventing fires and explosions. “We can be happy that the number of explosions is down, but it’s important to stay vigilant,” Ambrose said. “I always tell people to keep their eyes, nose and ears open – if you see something strange, hear an odd noise or smell something unusual, then that’s the time to shut down and check all the equipment.
“It’s not about completing a one-day maintenance and thinking you’re done for the year. It’s a constant, ongoing process.”
Workplace safety is one of the top priorities for the NGFA, which dedicates resources to education and awareness. More about this report and other safety topics can be found on NGFA’s website.