Making a Sweeping Change…and Making It Faster, Too

Can a Sweeper Save Lives?

In response to a number of industrial accidents, Tornado’s president, Michael Schaffer, is encouraging distributors to educate plant and warehouse managers about the dangers of dust.

Starting back in 2003, Schaffer says combustible dust blew up 25 plants in the United States, 28 in 2004, and federal investigators estimate that there have been more than 280 plant explosions nationwide over the past two decades—all attributed to dust.

According to Schaffer an explosion occurred on January 29, 2003, in Kinston, North Carolina.  At the time, locals thought a plane hit a nearby pharmaceutical-manufacturing plant, which was a reasonable assumption since the plant was next to an airport. *

However, it was not an airplane that blew up the plant—and killed six people—it was dust.

Similarly, in January 2003, devastating fires and explosions destroyed a North Carolina pharmaceutical plant that manufactured rubber drug-delivery components. Six employees were killed, and 38 people, including two firefighters, were injured.  The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), an independent federal agency charged with investigating chemical incidents, issued a final report concluding that an accumulation of a combustible polyethylene dust was to blame for the explosion.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), "any industrial process that reduces a combustible material and some normally noncombustible materials to a finely divided state—essentially turning it into dust—presents a potential for a serious fire or explosion." 

Despite the impute of NFPA, many people struggle with the concept of dust combustion and simply do not understand how serious a problem it can be.  Any "material that will burn in air in a solid form can be explosive when in a finely divided form.”**

A combustible dust explosion hazard may exist in a variety of industries, including food service, plastics, wood, rubber, furniture, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dyes, coal, and metals.

Remove the Dust

The University of Michigan’s Professor Bill Kauffman, a leading expert on such explosions, says there is only one way to prevent this: “remove the dust.”  The U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggest a number of steps facility managers can take to reduce the amount of dust that can escape during the manufacturing process as well as ways to remove it.  However, it does not appear enough is being done to both remove dust and prevent these explosions, warns Schaffer, which also negatively impacts indoor air quality and the environment.

“There are some OSHA and state government regulations when it comes to the perils of dust accumulation on [factory/warehouse] floors,” adds Schaffer.  “But these may not be as well enforced as they should be, warning systems are often haphazard, and many plant managers are simply unaware of the dangers caused by dust.”

Schaffer believes that instead of government intervention, jansan distributors can lead the way and educate their industrial clients regarding the problems associated with dust accumulation.

“An area of concern is dust accumulating in ventilation systems,” he says.  “Ultimately this is what caused the explosion at the pharmaceutical plant mentioned earlier.”

One of the best ways to minimize dust accumulation, according to Schaffer, is to keep floors clean and collect dust before it becomes airborne.  A new generation of manually operated sweepers such as Tornado’s new Upsweep 32 Manual Sweeper appears optimal for attacking this problem. 

“These systems have multiple rotating brushes so they can clean floor areas faster and more effectively than older sweeping systems,” Schaffer says.  “They are also able to ‘upsweep’ dust into the dust pan, improving dust collection.”

Additionally, these machines are fast.  According to studies, they can clean a floor area as much as 10 times faster than conventional sweeping systems.  In fact, as much as 30,000 square feet can be cleaned in just one hour.

Adds Schaffer, this is a preventable problem.  “In those more than 280 plant explosions, 119 people were killed and approximately 700 were injured,” he says.  “Our industry can play a leading role in preventing dust explosions.”

* Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 21, 2007.

** J Cross and D. Farrer, Dust Explosions,  Plenum Press, 1982.


More information is available by contacting Tornado at or visiting their Web site at

Tornado® Industries, Inc. 7401 West Lawrence Ave., Chicago, IL 60706
Toll-Free Phone: 800-Vacuums (800-822-8867) • Chicago Phone: 708-867-5100 • Fax: 708-867-6968

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