Grain dust risks and dangers

Grain dust risks and dangersGrain dust is an inevitable part of grain transportation and handling; this problem needs to be addressed with the best management practices in order to prevent safety concerns.

The dust that occurs during grain handling operations typically consists of grain particles, soil particles, plant material, fungi, bacteria, fertilizer and agricultural chemical residues, insect waste, small rodents, and birds. The composition of grain dust can varies depending on the type of grain that is being transported, its growing conditions, the way the grain was harvested, stored and processes; for example, rotten grain contains elevated amounts of dust and bacteria.

One of the biggest dangers that grain dust poses is a risk of an explosion. Not all types of dust are combustible: for the dust to cause an explosion, the dust itself must be flammable. For example, salt dust, no matter the amounts of it present in air, will not cause an explosion as salt itself does not burn. Grain, on the other hand, especially is the form of dust, is highly flammable and often causes explosions at grain storage at transportation facilities. The explosive nature of dust varies on the type of grain and its minimum explosive concentration (MEC). A critical MEC level can be reached in a very short time during handling operations. Given that all other elements (confinement, ignition source, oxygen) are present, an explosion is inevitable.

Grain dust also causes serious health problems for those who are exposed to it. Inhalation of grain dust causes lung-related problems like coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and allergies. Skin exposure to grain dust causes rashes, irritation, eye inflammation, nasal irritation and grain fever.

There are a number of possible solutions to the grain dust problem:

  1. Modifications of grain handling operations can have a positive effect and cause the levels of grain dust to drop. Possible changes to the handling process include limitation of operations during wind; reduction of the grain free-fall distances and grain velocities; removing the “wind tunnel” by enclosing the receiving area; keep a conveyor belt at lowest speed, etc.
  2. Grain dust collecting is the most effective way of reducing the presence of grain dust in the air and reduce the risk of combustion.

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