Fire alarm on a wall.

Hidden Danger: How Dusty Indoor Spaces Can Become Fire Hazards

It’s been a rough fire season for many out there. This time of year we’re all reminded of how important fire safety is, both in and out of doors. When you think of indoor fire hazards, common threats such as faulty appliances, electrical wires or gas stoves may come to mind.  However, there is a less obvious, yet equally significant fire risk that many people overlook: excessive amounts of dust.  That’s right—something as seemingly innocuous as dust can become a silent accomplice in creating devastating fires.  In this post, we’ll dive into how dusty indoor spaces can pose a serious fire hazard and why it’s vital that you keep your facility clean and well-maintained. 

Why Cleaner is Safer

If you manage a commercial facility of any kind, you’ve likely read various cleaning vendors advertising that a clean facility is a safer one.  In recent years, this message seemed to be targeted towards the thwarting of viruses and preventing the spread of illness.    In 2023 this same message may seem trite.   But before you scoff and eye-roll, it’s important to understand that cleaner can be safer in the literal sense.  Some quick examples of how a lack of cleaning can lead to real problems can include mold or infestation.   But we’re going to turn our attention toward another type of threat: heavy dust build up.

How Dusty Indoor Spaces can become a Fire Hazards

Oxygen, heat, and fuel as frequently referred to as the “fire triangle.”  All three of these things must be present in order for fire to occur.  Fuel is the material to be burned.  Oxygen in the air is the oxidizing agent.  And heat energy (spark, flame, etc.) initiates the reaction. 

  • Dust is Fuel:  Dust particles often contain flammable material such as dead skin cells, paper fibers, hair and pollen.  When these particles accumulate in significant quantities, they become a readily available source of fuel for fires.  Dust has a low flashpoint.  Meaning, it’s very combustible. It requires very little flame or spark to ignite and burn it.  And when the dust is everywhere…the fire is super-charged.
  • Insulation and Heat Retention: Dust can accumulate on electrical equipment and machinery, acting as an insulator.  Electrical components can overheat due to poor ventilation.  Culprits for poor air circulation and cooling come from things like dust buildup on air intake grills.  This can lead to ignition, which then feeds off the combustible dust.  Needless to say, avoid this feedback loop at all costs. 
  • Airborne Combustion: in extremely dusty spaces, there is often fine dust particles lingering in the air.  This can intensify the blaze.  
  • Smoke Detection systems: dust may interfere with a device’s sensors and cause it to go off needlessly.  No one needs that in their life.   
Dusty air vent
A handfuls of dust.  A combustible fuel for indoor fires.

Hidden Sources of Dust 

Dusting at home can be a rather time-consuming chore.  But dust in a commercial facility can be a substantial challenge.  For your consideration:

  • HVAC Systems: these systems push, pull, and cool air throughout your space.  They also attract the dust lingering in that air.  It’s important to make sure your heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are occasionally cleaned by a professional.  A relatively simple, yet crucial maintenance task that you can perform is routinely replacing the system’s air filters.  Pro tip: if you see dust-stalactites dangling from restroom air-intake grills, this is a telltale red-flag that the dust has gotten bad.  
  • Windows and doors: be sure to seal any cracks and gaps.  This helps prevent outdoor particles such as dust and pollen from entering your space.
  • High dust.  Here’s where we urge you to look up.  In a facility with high-ceilings, it can difficult to assess just how bad things have gotten.  Common examples include the tops of ceiling fans or HVAC pipes.  High dusting can sometimes be an overlooked aspect of commercial janitorial.  To do a quick check of how your facility measures up, take a walking tour of your office.  Along the way swipe your finger along the tops of door frames, artwork, or window blinds.  Typical dust is gray or black in color.  Construction dust is white.    
Man changing out the HVAC Air filter.

Conclusion

Regular cleaning can prevent an unsafe buildup of dust and reduce fire risk to your facility.  In some cases, professional cleaning is needed.  A responsible cleaning company will utilize dust wands with extensions, ladders or even lifts to safely remove the dust.  The can also use vacuums equipped with HEPA-filters to extract even the finest of particles.  

If you need help assessing your workplace or have questions on the dangers of a dusty facility, our Service Consultants are happy to assist.  Contact us today.

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