Sunday, July 05, 2015

Dust, Powder Can Be Fire Hazards


My note:  This is written by a former colleague in the cruising industry who is a retired master mariner and it appeared in the ST forum recently.  Given his training and profession, he has always stressed on maritime safety.  The recent Taiwan party incident which took 2 lives so far and sadly, more might follow has triggered him to pen his thought.

It is my pleasure to append his article on my blog for the better guidance of the readers.    

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At least two died and hundreds were injured in Taiwan when clouds of multi-coloured corn starch sprayed on the crowds exploded and engulfed the young revellers in flames ("S'porean among 500 injured in Taiwan festival fire". Monday, and "Colour Run to continue in Singapore", Thursday).

The cause is likely to be cigarette lighters or heat from stage lights.  The manufacturer had marked the powder as "flammable" , but the organisers ignored the warning.  They said they had never heard that such an activity could be dangerous.

Likewise, housewives cannot imagine that a bag of corn flour in the kitchen can explode, the way it did in Taiwan.

Last August, the metallic dust suspended in factory air exploded in China, killing at least 75 and injuring many more ("Safety breaches at auto factory led to deadly dust blast, says Xinhua"; Aug 5, 2014).  The factory polishes hubcaps.  Perhaps the heat source was also a cigarette lighter.

Experts have said that dust can be highly explosive when it is suspended in air, in the right concentrations, and this is true even of materials such as aluminium and iron that typically do not burn.

We need to learn from these incidents.  We must bear in mind that a heat source need not be external; dust particles rubbing against one another at high speeds can also result in a spark of explosion.

By Capt Kevin Ho ( Master Mariner)

p.s.  this article of mine above was published in the forum page of the Straits Times on 4 July 2015. Owners and operators of buildings and ships, especially those that are very old, should note that fine dust may form in ventilation or air-condition ducting, with time.  The ducting is like blood vessels, enveloping the human body.  A careless spark or heat source, may cause the whole building or ship to end up in a ball of fire.  Hence, regular cleaning of said ducting is absolutely necessary, not only for safety, but also for health and hygiene purposes.  Learning from the factory fire in China in Aug 2014, the air-condition ductings of 2 very old cruise ships, under our management, were opened up for inspection.  Dust of about one inch was found at its base.          

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