Risk Assessment Helps Corporate Executives Avoid Dust Explosions

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When the dust settles after an industrial dust explosion, corporate executive officers must answer for the loss of life, revenue, market share, and confidence on Wall Street. Avoiding such risks begins with a professional risk assessment

Once the domain of plant managers and facility engineers, the repercussions from a major dust explosion in an industrial facility now reverberate all the way up the chain of command to the very top executives – including the CEO. Despite the significant and very real risks of dust explosions, which include the initial blast, secondary fires, significant losses of process revenue and a host of other hidden costs, many corporate officers continue to play Russian Roulette by ignoring the issue altogether.

Almost all organic material or un-oxidized metal, when in a dust cloud, will ignite at a temperature below 500 °C -- approximately the temperature of a recently extinguished match. Companies in pulp and paper, plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and milling operations that handle powders and bulk solids are susceptible. Food dusts such as sugar, starch, flour, and cocoa are also major causes of dust explosions.

Whether these events are categorized as large, or small, the localized casualties often get overshadowed by a number of hidden costs, including:

1) Loss of revenue

While casualty/fire insurance can soften the financial impact of the loss of equipment and buildings, it seldom makes up for the loss of product and revenue stream. When processes suddenly stop, the losses can mount to millions of dollars per week.

2) Loss of customer base/market share

Any major disruptions to a company's ability to meet customers' needs could result in the loss of customers and market share, which is difficult to win back.

3) Government fines

OSHA has been known to issue citations for hundreds of thousands of dollars in proposed penalties against companies that failed to protect employees from potentially explosive accumulations of dust.

4) The end of a career

If a major facility experiences a dust explosion and is out of commission for an extended period of time at great loss of revenue, then the final casualty might be corporate execs – even the CEO.

Professional risk analysis

Based in West Palm Beach, Florida, Cv Technology (http://www.cvtechnology.com) provides engineering and consulting services for dust explosion risk analysis and protection system design. According to David Cvetas, the company’s president, a professionally-conducted risk analysis can identify many potential sources of dust explosions before they occur.

“You can't completely eliminate the danger, but a risk analysis can certainly reduce probability and severity of an industrial dust explosion,” says Cvetas.

A risk assessment from Cv Technology includes dust tests and a process evaluation to determine where there is risk for fire or explosion. Cv Technology can also project the likely consequences of an event.

Once the Risk Analysis is completed, the protection alternatives are fully explored. Cv Technology prefers passive systems, which are the least expensive and most reliable. Taking into account the process systems, critical operations, production scheduling requirements etc, priorities can be set, installation costs determined, and a schedule developed for implementation.

“What risk analyses and dust explosion protection systems really provide is insurance,” says Cvetas. “They give top executives the peace of mind that they are operating their plants safely¾not only preventing potential loss of life but also protecting their assets and valuable process revenue from dust explosions.”

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Bill Stevenson
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