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Hazards of Combustible Metal Powders in Massachusetts

Massachusetts manufacturers who work with fine metal powders should take special precautions to protect their workers. Failure to do so can lead to serious injuries or even death. Although employees can bring workers’ compensation claims for their losses, there is no excuse not to take precautions against the known risks of fire and explosions.

Recently OSHA cited a 3D printing company for one willful and 9 serious violations of workplace safety standards. It inspected the company after an explosion and fire. In the fire, a company worker received third degree burns. OSHA learned that the company failed to prevent and protect the workforce from fire and explosion hazards that resulted from combustible metal powders that were used in the 3D printing.

The powders involved were based on titanium and aluminum alloys. When these are in fine powder form, it is very easy for them to catch fire or explode. The company in this case did not take away known sources of ignition, nor did it follow pertinent instructions from equipment manufacturers. It did not alert the fire department to the workplace presence of hazardous materials. Furthermore, it had put its workstation and the flammable powders near the area with the explosion potential.

OSHA also found other hazards, like the use of unapproved electrical equipment, failure to train workers on chemical hazards, inappropriate wiring and equipment, failure to provide workers with necessary protective clothing, equipment, and training, no written respiratory protection program, and failure to post danger tags in areas with explosions.

The acting regional administrator for New England noted that establishments using metal powders need to pay particular attention to their processes in order to protect workers from hazards such as explosions associated with metal powders. He also noted that the market for 3D printing extended to a wide range of industries from aerospace to jewelry and was a new industry that needed to develop its safety standards.

Companies using titanium and aluminum should have Class D metal fire extinguishers. These fires can’t be extinguished with a typical extinguisher or with water. There were no metal fire extinguishers on-site during the explosion at issue in this OSHA citation.

Preventing dust explosions should be a priority for employers using metal powders, as well as employers whose workers are around fertilizer, coal, grain, sugar, sawdust, and flour. Employers should also be aware that any ordinary firefighting procedures can actually aggravate the conditions for an explosion. This happens by creating dust clouds, introducing air, using equipment that can ignite, or applying incompatible extinguishing agents.

If you work with dusts, you should make sure your employer is prepared for an emergency. Emergency contact information should be readily available. Explosion protection devices and systems should be in place, and workers should be familiar with them. Employers must also prepare an incident action plan.

In order to prevent or reduce the seriousness of these explosions, any fire attack should be defensive when appropriate. Agents that are compatible should be used for extinguishing, low-pressure medium fog streams can be used to avoid dust clouds that exacerbate the situation, oxygen should be timed properly, the power should be shut down, and no ignition sources should be introduced.

If you are hurt at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules or give you guidance if there is no insurance available. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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