Grain Dust Explosions in the U.S.

March 21, 2019

UEP’s March 7 newsletter featured an article on a new federal environmental reporting requirement involving “combustible dust” that is found at feed mills and that may apply to some egg operations.  These “Tier II” reports are required under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).  The combustible dust element is the result of a 2016 U.S. EPA rulemaking that aligned Tier II reporting with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. As noted in that article,  whether or not farms chose to report this dust under Tier II, diligent use of sound dust management practices around feed mills makes good workplace safety and business sense.

Dr. Kingsly Ambrose of Purdue University tracks data from these incidents and he recently released a 2018 report with summary data going back to 2009.  Key findings are summarized below.

  1. There were 12 grain dust explosions reported in the U.S. in 2018, causing one fatality and four injuries. There were seven explosions in 2017.  The 10-year average is 8.4 explosions.
  2. The 2018 incidents involved two feed mills, two ethanol plants, and eight grain elevators.
  3. Between 2015 and 2018, there were a total of eight feed mill incidents in the U.S., resulting in six fatalities and 23 injuries.

As this data shows, explosions at feed mills, while rare, do occur and result in human deaths and injuries.   To reduce the risk of a grain dust explosion or fire, focus on controlling dust and reducing the sources of ignition. Preventative measures include continuous housekeeping, sanitation, and regularly scheduled maintenance. Implement a housekeeping or sanitation program to decrease grain dust in all work areas and train employees in good practices.

There are numerous excellent resources available to feed mill operations to learn more about grain dust safety practices.  Grain Dust Explosions on the eXtension website provides comprehensive information about all the aspects of these risks and an interesting short video that demonstrates grain dust explosion hazards in a controlled setting.