When Dust Becomes Deadly

Posted on April 14, 2020

Workers in certain industries face high risks for combustible dust explosions that are often deadly. In a dust explosion, heated air and gaseous fire products produce such extreme air pressure that entire structures can be quickly demolished.

The Dangers of Combustible Dust

Combustible dust is defined as any fine material that has the ability to catch fire and explode when mixed with air. Combustible dust can be generated from most solid organic materials like wood, grain, flour, and sugar, some inorganic materials, and many metals. Some of these materials are not “normally” combustible, but they can burn or explode if the particles are the right size and in the right concentration.

In many workplace conditions, dust collects on building surfaces such as roofs, rafters, suspended ceilings, air ducts, and equipment. Under certain conditions when the dust is disturbed, a dust build-up occurs creating a hazardous work environment and the potential for serious combustible dust explosions. These explosions usually happen quickly, leaving workers little chance to avoid serious burns, physical disfigurement, life-threatening injuries, and death.

Workers in certain industries face higher risks of dust explosions and serious or fatal injuries:

  • Woodworking facilities
  • Food production plants
  • Recycling facilities that process plastics, paper, and metals
  • Chemical manufacturing for plastics, rubber, and pharmaceuticals
  • Metal work and processing facilities
  • Grain elevators

Workers Compensation Benefits

In Illinois, workers injured by combustible dust exposure and/or explosions while performing their normal duties are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for occupational injuries, whether the injury is caused by a single exposure or a long-term exposure. Benefits for workplace injuries usually include:

  • Covered expenses for diagnostic studies, medical care and treatments, medications, vocational rehabilitation, and necessary medical equipment
  • Temporary disability benefits to compensate for lost wages during the treatment and recovery period while a worker cannot perform his/her normal duties
  • Permanent total disability or permanent partial disability benefits to compensate for physical or mental impairments caused by toxic exposure or injury

Unlike claims filed for personal injuries, workers’ compensation claims are not based on fault. A worker is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if he/she suffers illness or is injured on the job, even when an employer takes all reasonable precautions to eliminate possible exposure to combustible dust hazards in the workplace. If a claim is denied by the insurance company, an experienced Chicago work injury lawyer can file an appeal and request a hearing to review the case on the worker’s behalf.