In June, a few of our fire protection consultants got the chance to attend the NFPA conference in Chicago. We’ve asked that they summarize the key points from some of the sessions they attended so that we can share the information with you on our blog. Rob McFeaters attended a session called “Design Flexibility in Managing Dust Explosion Hazards”, presented by John Cholin and Bill Stevenson. Mr. Cholin is the Principal of J.M. Cholin Consultants and Mr. Stevenson is the Vice President of Engineering for CV Technology.

The heart of the session focused on the point that while NFPA dust standards are good at prescribing an approach to manage dust explosion hazards, a purely prescriptive approach to these hazards is not always the best practice. Many times, the reality of the facility’s design, such as poured concrete silos, make it very difficult, if not impossible to use a simple, straight-forward prescriptive approach. During the session, Mr. Cholin and Mr. Stevenson also presented several case studies where venting was not possible (or was difficult) and other means, like control of ignition sources, were used to achieve the desired level of safety. The presenters also reviewed other non-prescriptive approaches to dust hazards that have shown to be successful, including changing the process to prevent the formation of a combustible atmosphere.

Here are the key points Rob extracted from this session:

  • A purely prescriptive approach to mitigating combustible dust hazards can result in over-design or under-design. Over-design is unnecessarily expensive; under-design is dangerous.
  • Use of non-prescriptive, risk-based analysis can result in more accurate risk assessment and a more effective risk mitigation solution, which is safer and more cost-effective.

The fundamental concept of approaching each individual problem with design flexibility is essential when it comes to the design of facilities that handle combustible dust explosion hazards.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.