Why industrial vacuum cleaners should be part of a dust-control program.

VAC-U-MAX offers off-the-shelf compressed air-powered vacuums suitable for service certification in Class II, Div. II environments, due to their bumper-to-bumper grounded and bonded design.

Sweeping or blowing wayward dust during housekeeping is widely discouraged by OSHA and the NFPA for nearly all industries. While seemingly benign, dusts can create many hazards, such as flying particles that can lead to eye injury; slippery surfaces; and heavy accumulations that can lead to ergonomic injuries. The most serious hazards involving the sweeping and blowing of dust - such as respiratory and explosion hazards - threaten lives. The use of vacuums is almost always recommended as a preferred method of removing fugitive dust. Rather than redistributing dust, industrial vacuum cleaners remove it, thereby reducing or eliminating any hazards.

The most dramatic hazard associated with dust is secondary explosion. In fact, this danger captured the attention of the United States Congress, which led to a bill that directed OSHA to “issue an interim combustible dust rule and an amendment to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) in 90 days, and a final rule in 18 months,” according to OSHA’s “Combustible Dust; Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.”

With over 4,900 violations associated with OSHA’s Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP), recent news releases about the organization leveling fines ranging from $63,000 to $137,000 at four companies in 2010, and increased local television coverage of combustible dust violations, OSHA has made it clear that it will enforce current standards.

In response to OSHA’s NEP, many facility and safety managers have revamped their housekeeping practices and have added industrial vacuum cleaners approved for use in Class II Div. II areas to mitigate the possibility of secondary explosions caused by fugitive dust.

However, of the more than 1,000 inspections that OSHA has completed, only 18-22% of the facilities were in compliance with OSHA requirements.

“It can sometimes be tough for facilities,” says David Kennedy, general manager, VAC-U-MAX Vacuum Cleaning division. “They may have gotten approval from the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), but OSHA can still come in and fine them if they deem that the facility doesn’t meet combustible dust standards.”

VAC-U-MAX, a leading manufacturer of industrial vacuum cleaning systems for production lines and other dust-intensive areas, developed the first air-operated industrial vacuum cleaner to prevent dust explosions.

Although it can be argued that current OSHA standards are ambiguous (hence OSHA’s proposed rulemaking on combustible dust), the standards are clearly noted in the organization’s bulletin, “Combustible Dust in Industry: Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Fire and Explosions,” which was first issued five years ago.

Because OSHA is taking strong enforcement actions, facilities must make reasonable efforts to mitigate combustible dust hazards. To assist companies in understanding OSHA requirements, VAC-U-MAX has developed a Web site,www.combustibledustvacs.com, dedicated to combustible dust hazards, including OSHA documents referencing the hazards and compliance.

According to OSHA, housekeeping ranked second in citations under the NEP “with respect to combustible dust-related hazards.” Among the most commonly cited violations were accumulations of combustible, blowing dust with an air compressor and not using electrical equipment that was designed for hazardous locations.

“There is no single standard or specific vacuum cleaner that can meet the requirements for all combustible dust,” says Kennedy. “Companies really need someone who has intimate knowledge of how chemicals react in certain environments and is experienced in NFPA standards to help them choose the right Class II Div. II vacuum cleaner.”

The VAC-U-MAX central vacuum system.


VAC-U-MAX offers compressed air-powered vacuums that meet the NFPA 70 requirements for grounding and bonding.

Dust Explosions

The three most recent dust explosions (two outside the U.S. and one in Douglas County, OR), which killed 19 people and injured 53, serve as a reminder that secondary dust explosions are more destructive than primary explosions. This is because increased concentrations of dispersed combustible dust are activated by the initial explosion.

Beyond creating dust clouds that have the potential to ignite, sweeping or blowing dust during housekeeping routines causes powders to become suspended and settle in hard-to-reach areas, including beams, walls, areas hidden behind equipment, or in very small spaces. The accumulation of combustible dust in these areas is among OSHA’s most-cited violations. The use of industrial vacuum cleaners designed for use in Class II Div. II environments not only removes dust particles as small 1 micron but, when used regularly in housekeeping routines, minimizes the amount of dust that can collect in hard-to-reach areas. Reducing the amount of dust suspended in the air leads to lower housekeeping costs because fewer work hours are required for the task.

In addition to mitigating the possibility of dust explosions, reducing the amount of combustible powder suspended in the air through the use of industrial vacuum cleaners can lead to a better respiratory environment for workers. It also reduces slip hazards and may even prevent back injuries caused by cleaning heavy dusts.

Respiratory, Slip and Ergonomic Hazards

“The business of working with powders is fascinating,” says David Kennedy. “We work with so many different chemicals that have such wide-ranging reactions, it never gets boring. Some chemicals don’t get wet with water; in fact, they can even become more flammable when exposed to water. We are working on an application right now that is a waste product of three different chemicals. There is no name for this chemical, but we are helping our client deal with the explosive nature of this waste.

“Some powders, such as silica, have the ability to hang in the air for days when blown with air compressors,” Kennedy continues. “Others, such as graphite, are slippery, and some are very heavy, like cement. A heavy powder can weigh 50-70 lbs/ft2 and can cause back injuries when being swept.”

When dusts hang in the air for long periods, they can exacerbate respiratory threats. Silica exposure can lead to silicosis, a lung disease caused by continued inhalation of siliceous minerals that are prevalent in glass, brick, cement, asphalt, ceramic, and metal fabrication industries where sand is used as a component or for blasting, as well as in tunneling operations.

“Silica, of course, is only one of the powders that poses respiratory threats to workers,” says Kennedy. “To combat those, we can provide a second HEPA filter rated 99.97% on particle size to 0.3 microns.”

Fugitive dust is a housekeeping issue that plagues most industries. Working with a vacuum cleaner manufacturer that is intimate with chemical characteristics produces the best outcome for facilities battling fugitive dust.

About the Company

VAC-U-MAX, Belleville, NJ, is a premier manufacturer of industrial vacuum-cleaning systems for production lines and other dust-intensive areas.

For more information, phone (800) 822-8629 or e-mail info@vac-u-max.com.