In 2011, three incidents involving combustible iron dust occurred at the Hoeganaes Corporation in Gallatin, Tennessee. Flash fires and an explosion resulted in the death of five workers and injured three others. The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has concluded their investigation and has recently released a new 14-minute safety video depicting each incident. The video is called “Iron in the Fire” and features computer animation that displays how fine metal particles were ignited in two of the incidents, as well as the hydrogen explosion and flash fire that resulted in the fatalities and injuries.

All three incidents happened within six months of each other. The first occurred on January 31st, 2011 when iron dust particles from a broken bucked elevator ignited while two maintenance workers were performing repairs. Once the motor of the bucket elevator engaged, a spark ignited dust particles. Both men were killed as a result of this incident.

The second incident occurred two months later on March 29, 2011. A maintenance worker used a hammer to reconnect a gas line on the side of one of the plant’s furnaces. Striking the furnace caused iron dust to be elevated into the air, which then ignited. The maintenance worker was severely burned and fell from his raised working position, further injuring him.

The last incident occurred on May 27, 2011 when maintenance workers were repairing a corroded furnace pipe. The pipe contained highly flammable hydrogen gas that ignited when the workers used a forklift to raise a metal floorplate to access the pipe. The leaking gas continued to burn, while the force of the explosion shook large amounts of loose iron dust from the rafters. This third incident resulted in the death of three workers.

According to the CSB, all three of these incidents were entirely preventable. They also found that, “Significant amounts of fine iron powder had accumulated over time at the Hoeganaes facility, and that while the company knew from its own testing and experience with flash fires in the plant that the dust was combustible, it did not take the necessary action to reduce the hazards through engineering controls and basic housekeeping. The investigation also found that Hoeganaes did not institute procedures such as combustible gas monitoring or provide training for employees on avoiding flammable gas fires and explosions.”

Combustible dust continues to be a major workplace threat throughout the nation. The CSB hopes that the release of this new safety video will help to expose that dust fires and explosions continue to claim lives and destroy property in several industries. CSB Chairperson, Rafael Moure-Eraso states, “More must be done to control this hazard…no more lives should be lost from these preventable accidents”.