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How Many Dust Explosions Happen Each Year?

Image courtesy of DustEx Research Chris_Cloney_DUSTEX.jpg
Dr. Chris Cloney, PEng, managing director and lead researcher at DustEx Research Ltd, and runs dustsafetyscience.com, dustsafetyacademy.com, and dustsafetyprofessionals.com
Dust explosions are largely unreported or misreported events

Ever since starting our incident reporting work at DustSafeyScience.com, this practical question of lives touched by combustible dust incidents has always loomed in the back of my mind.

The challenge of increasing dust explosion awareness can be highlighted by a quote first published in German by Beyersdorfer (1925)1 and more recently translated by the late Dr. Rolf Eckhoff (2003)2: “The first [question]--asked by most people--was, “Are dust explosions really existing?” The second question--asked by the plant engineer--was, “Why are we having so many dust explosions?” The final question was asked by the researcher, “Why are we not having many more dust explosions?””

Yes, we still have a lot of work to do to close the gap between “is this possible”, “too many are happening”, and “how in the world are there not more” - but a more basic question is how many are happening in the first place?

Historical Loss History Data (US)

In terms of the number of dust explosions, several data sources are available. Between 1900 and 1956, 1,123 dust explosions were reported by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)3. A further 386 “major” dust explosions were reported by the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) between 1980 and 20174,5. In addition, yearly reports since 1977 have been published first by Robert Schoeff at Kansas State University and then by Dr. Kingsley Ambrose at Purdue University covering grain handling explosion incidents.

All told, these sources suggest an average of about 20 “major” dust explosions in the US per year since the 1990s, resulting in 25-35 injuries and 5-10 fatalities per year. This compares to an average of 30 explosions per year, 27 injuries, and between one and six fatalities per year, reported through our incident database since 20166.

That leaves the question of how many explosions occur around the world each year? In an interesting research paper published in 2015, Yuan, Khakzad, Khan, and Amyotte review more than 2,000 dust explosion accidents worldwide between 1785 and 20127. In their paper, the authors suggest that the number of dust explosions in a given country is related to the level of economic activity, and illustrates this using the historical data compared to the GDP of each country in the time period given.

So, what happens when we apply this GDP scaling across the globe? Well, the US has about 24% of the world’s GDP today. If we apply this to our 30 explosions/year, it suggests that 125 dust explosions large enough to make the local news are occurring every year. In other words, a “major” dust explosion is happening somewhere around the globe at least every 2.9 days!

It is important to keep in mind that dust explosions are largely unreported or misreported events. As such, the numbers here are likely a bare minimum of what is actually occurring. Including the less severe incidents that may not result in facility damages, injuries, or reporting of local news, the actual number of explosions is likely a factor of 10 or more higher.

So the question is not if dust explosions are happening, but what are you, your facility, or the companies you are working with doing to prevent and protect from loss - when they do occur?

Chris Cloney is managing director and lead researcher at DustEx Research Ltd, and runs dustsafetyscience.com, dustsafetyacademy.com, and dustsafetyprofessionals.com.

References

1. Beyersdorfer, P. (1925) Staub-Explosionen. Dresden und Leipzig: Verlag von Theodor Steinkopff.

2. Eckhoff, R.K. (2003) Dust Explosions in the Process Industries, 3rd edition. Gulf Professional Publishing, Amsterdam.

3. National Fire Protection Association. (1957) Report of Important Dust Explosions. NFPA, Quincy, MA.

4. U.S Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. (2006) Investigation Report: Combustible Dust Hazard Study. Report No. 2006-H-1.

5. U.S Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. Dust Incidents 2006-2017.

6. Cloney, Chris (2022). 2021 Combustible Dust Incident Report - Version #1. DustEx Research Ltd.

7. Yuan, Khakzad, Khan, and Amyotte. (2015) Dust explosions: A threat to the process industries. Process Safety and Environmental Protection, 98:57–71.

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