Recently, three workers were severely burned while using cutting torches in a grain silo. Due to combustible grain dust in the air, an explosion occurred, sending the three men working at the Simmons Feed Mill in Fairland, Oklahoma to the Hillcrest Burn Center in Tulsa. The men were contractors on the property who were working below ground level cutting silos. These work injuries and burn injuries should not occur if proper safety mechanisms are in place.
Agricultural dust, such as sugar dust and grain dust, is highly explosive, and industry has known for over 100 years that grain dust in the air can cause a significant explosion. The massive explosion at the Imperial Sugar Refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia was caused by combustible sugar dust. OSHA has drafted tight regulations on combustible dust, and special standards for the grain handling industry have existed for years. With adequate housekeeping and employee training, combustible dust explosions can be kept to a minimum.
What’s clear, however, is that in modern agricultural industry, even using the most basic workplace safety practices and industrial hygiene should completely prevent grain explosions. Use of PPE, including flame retardant clothing, is recommended, so that if a flash fire does occur, it will not cause substantial injury.