A cost-effective Combustible Dust Hazard Analysis (DHA) complying with NFPA 652


Dust Hazard Analysis (DHA) is a systematic approach for identifying, assessing, and managing risks associated with combustible dust in industrial environments. NFPA 652 outlines three methods for conducting DHA: the prescriptive approach, performance-based approach, and risk-based approach. Despite ongoing debates about which method is most suitable for industries, this article presents a cost-effective strategy for conducting a qualified DHA. Through extensive practice, we have proposed that the most effective method for DHA involves using the prescriptive approach for the entire facility, while applying the performance-based or risk-based approaches to specific equipment where it is not necessary to adhere strictly to NFPA standards.


Combustible dust incidents occur frequently in the industry, leading to significant loss of life, property damage, and environmental destruction. Due to the severe consequences of dust explosion hazards, regulations like OSHA’s National Emphasis Program heavily address combustible dust hazards. Additionally, the NFPA has developed several standards to manage these risks, including NFPA 652, NFPA 654, and the forthcoming NFPA 660, which aims to consolidate and streamline existing standards into a comprehensive guideline.

The key to preventing industrial incidents related to combustible dust is to properly identify the hazard, effectively manage it, and implement adequate safeguards to mitigate potential fire and explosion consequences. This process is known as Dust Hazard Analysis (DHA). Currently, there are three methods for performing DHA: the prescriptive method (compliance-based DHA), the performance-based DHA, and the risk-based DHA. Although all three methods are accepted in the industry and recognized by NFPA standards, there is ongoing controversy regarding their effectiveness and cost.

The prescriptive method, emphasized in NFPA 652 “Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust,” involves adhering to predefined safety measures. However, industries often find it challenging or costly to implement all the required safeguards. The performance-based method aims to meet fundamental objectives, such as life safety, structural integrity, mission continuity, and mitigation of fire spread and explosions, as outlined in Section 4.2 of NFPA 652. This method requires consideration of fire and explosion scenarios in the design of all processes, equipment, and buildings. The risk-based approach evaluates the likelihood and potential severity of dust explosions or fires in all process equipment and facilities, using the traditional Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) approach applied to combustible dust handling.

Each method has its pros and cons. This article introduces a cost-effective DHA method to help industries appropriately identify and manage combustible dust hazards. It is recommended to use the prescriptive method to analyze the entire facility to identify compliance gaps. For specific equipment or areas where it is challenging or costly to implement NFPA requirements, the performance-based or risk-based approaches are recommended.


Combustible Dust Hazard

Combustible dust exhibits a range of hazards, as illustrated in Figure 1. The fire triangle represents the three elements required for a fire: fuel, oxygen, and an ignition source. All combustible dusts have the potential to cause explosions, which can propagate away from the source. Without confinement, this can result in a flash fire hazard. If confined, the deflagration can lead to damaging overpressures. Deflagration is the process that results in either a flash fire or an explosion. Thus, the four elements necessary for a flash fire are:

  • A combustible dust sufficiently small to burn rapidly and propagate flame.
  • A suspended cloud at a concentration greater than the minimum explosion concentration.
  • An atmosphere that supports combustion.
  • An ignition source with adequate energy or temperature to ignite the dust cloud.

A dust explosion requires an additional element:

  • Confinement of the dust cloud by an enclosure or partial enclosure.

A DHA involves a careful review of these hazards in all process equipment and buildings to determine the potential consequences of what could go wrong and to identify safeguards that could be implemented to prevent or mitigate those consequences.

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OSHA Regulation and NFPA Standards on Combustible Dust

Figure 2 illustrates the OSHA regulations and NFPA standards applicable to combustible dusts. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have a specific standard for combustible dust, it enforces existing regulations and provides guidelines to manage dust hazards effectively. Here is an overview of how OSHA handles combustible dust requirements:

  • General Duty Clause: Under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, employers are required to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. This clause is often applied to situations involving combustible dust when no specific OSHA standard applies.
  • Hazard Communication Standard (HCS): Employers must communicate the hazards of combustible dust to workers, including proper labeling and access to safety data sheets (SDSs) for materials that generate combustible dust.
  • Housekeeping: Good housekeeping practices are critical for managing dust accumulations. OSHA can cite under Standard 1910.22 (General Safety & Health Provisions – Housekeeping) if poor housekeeping contributes to dust hazards.
  • Ventilation Systems: Proper design and maintenance of ventilation systems are essential for controlling airborne dust. Standards such as 1910.94 (Ventilation) and 1910.307 (Hazardous Locations) may apply.
  • Fire and Explosion Prevention: OSHA Standard 1910.272 specifically addresses grain handling facilities, but its principles can be applied to other sectors handling combustible dust. This standard includes requirements for equipment, housekeeping, and ignition source control.
  • National Emphasis Program (NEP): Although not a standard, OSHA’s National Emphasis Program for Combustible Dust focuses on industries with potential dust hazards. It outlines policies and procedures for inspecting workplaces where combustible dusts are present.

OSHA refers to consensus standards, such as those from the NFPA, to guide inspections and compliance activities related to combustible dust hazards. Employers are advised to conduct a thorough DHA and implement effective dust management and control programs to maintain compliance and ensure worker safety.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has developed several standards to manage the hazards associated with combustible dust. NFPA 652, titled “Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust,” serves as a fundamental guideline applicable to all industries. It provides a baseline for managing fire and explosion risks associated with combustible dusts and requires facilities to conduct a DHA. The standard emphasizes the importance of good housekeeping practices, proper equipment use, and regular reviews and updates of safety measures every five years.

The upcoming NFPA 660 will integrate existing standards like NFPA 61, 484, 652, 654, 655, and 664, providing a single, comprehensive document that covers all aspects of combustible dust safety. This includes risk assessment, hazard identification, preventive measures, housekeeping, training, emergency response planning, and more. For specific measures that prevent or mitigate combustible dust fire and explosion hazards, one can refer to:

NFPA 68: Standard on Explosion Protection by Deflagration Venting

NFPA 69: Standard on Explosion Prevention Systems

NFPA 70: National Electrical Code

NFPA 77: Recommended Practice on Static Electricity

NFPA 499: Recommende Practice for the Classification of Combustible Susts and Hazardous (Classified) Locations in Chemical Process Areas

All of these standards are vital for ensuring the safety of environments where combustible dusts are present, offering guidelines to help prevent severe accidents and explosions that have historically resulted in significant casualties and damage.


Figure 2. OSHA Regulation and NFPA standard on combustible dust

A Cost-Effective DHA

Three widely accepted DHA methods are practiced in the industry, each with its respective pros and cons.

  1. Prescriptive DHA

A prescriptive DHA follows a specific set of procedures and guidelines as outlined in NFPA 652. This approach involves the systematic identification and evaluation of all potential fire, flash fire, and explosion hazards associated with combustible dust within a facility. The prescriptive method aims to address these hazards by strictly adhering to predefined safety measures and controls. A qualified DHA facilitator, who is knowledgeable about combustible dusts and familiar with NFPA standards (as shown in Figure 2), typically conducts this process.

By visiting the facility and observing actual operations, the DHA facilitator can quickly identify fire and explosion scenarios and detect gaps in prevention and mitigation measures that should comply with specific NFPA standards and OSHA NEP programs. However, it’s important to note that while a prescriptive DHA provides a structured approach to hazard analysis, it might not always capture the unique risks of every facility, especially if the operations or dust characteristics are unusual. In such cases, a more tailored, risk-based approach might be necessary.

Pros of Prescriptive DHA:

  • Low Upfront Cost: The facilitator, being an expert, can efficiently identify necessary safety measures based on OSHA NEP and NFPA standards by visiting the site and discussing operations with personnel.

Cons of Prescriptive DHA:

  • High Implementation Cost: Implementing the recommendations can be costly as it may not consider the actual risk, simply applying NFPA standards’ requirements.
  1. Performance-based DHA

A performance-based Dust Hazard Analysis (DHA) offers a more flexible and customized approach compared to the traditional prescriptive DHA. While prescriptive DHAs follow strict guidelines and checklists from safety standards like NFPA 652, performance-based DHAs focus on achieving specific safety outcomes and allow for innovative solutions tailored to the unique characteristics and risks of a facility.

Implementing a performance-based DHA involves:

  • Data Collection: Gather detailed information on all aspects of the facility’s operations that involve combustible dust, including material properties, process parameters, and historical incident data.
  • Hazard Identification: Use a systematic approach to identify potential sources of dust releases, ignition sources, and areas where explosive concentrations of dust could occur.
  • Risk Analysis: Quantify the risks using mathematical models and simulations based on actual operational data. This analysis helps in understanding the frequency and severity of potential incidents.
  • Mitigation Strategies: Develop tailored solutions that can include engineering controls, administrative policies, or a combination of both, designed to specifically address the identified risks.
  • Verification and Review: Regularly review and test the implemented safety measures to ensure their effectiveness, making adjustments as necessary based on ongoing monitoring and new data.

Pros of Performance-based DHA:

  • Cost Efficiency in Implementation: Detailed engineering analysis may reveal that expensive protection measures are unnecessary, reducing implementation costs.

Cons of Performance-based DHA:

  • High Upfront Cost: Extensive data collection and complicated engineering calculations are required to quantitatively prove the actual situation, making the initial DHA cost very high.
  1. Risk-based DHA

A risk-based DHA involves a detailed evaluation of the facility’s processes to identify and quantify risk levels associated with combustible dust. This method uses qualitative or semi-quantitative risk assessment techniques, such as HAZOP studies or LOPA analysis, to estimate the likelihood and potential impact of dust explosions. The company’s risk matrix should be well-developed to meet assessment requirements.

A risk-based DHA typically includes:

  • Identification of Dust Hazards: Identify all potential sources of dust generation and accumulation, including processes handling powders, granules, or other particulate solids.
  • Analysis of Explosion Characteristics: Study the combustibility and explosivity characteristics of the dusts, including particle size, moisture content, particle density, terminal velocity of particle, minimum ignition energy (MIE), minimum explosible concentration(MEC), minimu ignition temperature of both cloud and layer (MIT-C and MIT-L), explosion severity such as Pmax and Kst, etc.
  • Assessment of Risk: Evaluate the likelihood and potential severity of dust explosions or fires, considering the effectiveness of existing control measures, the condition and type of dust-handling equipment, and potential ignition sources.
  • Mitigation Strategies: Recommend ways to manage or mitigate the identified risks, which might include engineering controls like improved ventilation, housekeeping to reduce dust accumulations, and changes in work procedures.
  • Documentation and Recommendations: Document findings, analysis, and recommendations in a detailed report, serving as a guide for ensuring compliance with safety regulations and standards, such as those from NFPA.

The goal of a risk-based DHA is not only to comply with safety regulations but also to create a safer working environment by systematically addressing and reducing the risks associated with combustible dust.

Pros of Risk-based DHA:

  • Cost Efficiency in Implementation: Detailed risk analysis may reveal that expensive protection measures are unnecessary, reducing implementation costs.

Cons of Risk-based DHA:

  • High Upfront Cost: The initial cost is very high and very time-consuming, often requiring a team to spend weeks on risk assessment for a medium-level complex dust-handling process.

The pros and cons of the three DHA methods are illustrated in Figure 3. Extensive practice with these approaches has shown that for the same facility handling combustible dust, the upfront cost of both performance-based DHA and risk-based DHA is about 4 to 8 times higher than that of the prescriptive DHA. Based on this, we propose a cost-effective DHA method, as shown in Figure 4. It is recommended to use the prescriptive method to conduct DHA for the entire facility, and only for specific equipment where it is difficult or unnecessary to implement NFPA standards, should the performance-based or risk-based approach be used to validate the rejection of prescriptive recommendations. It is not recommended to use the performance-based or risk-based approach for the entire facility.


Figure 3. Pros and Cons of Three DHA Approaches.


Figure 4. A cost-effective approach for DHA


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