Explosion Risks in the Food Manufacture Industry

Okay kids, take a tin of custard powder, open the lid and place it inside a larger tin with a sealable lid. Make a hole in the tin can and place a tube through until it touches the custard inside the tin. Now place a candle inside the tin, quickly seal the lid then blow through the tube: kaboom, the lid should have flown off as the custard ignited.

Science teachers love this kind of experiment; it keeps kids engaged whilst demonstrating some important principles of science. Yet, if a group of kids can make a tin of custard explode, just think of the potential explosive power in factories that use tons of it. Not just custard either, most powdered foodstuffs, such as sugar, spices, flour and even coffee can explode.

Of course there are laws implemented to ensure that risk of explosions are kept to a minimum but how many companies actually follow them? In Britain the EU's ATEX directive was introduced in 2003 to ensure companies were aware of the risks attached with explosive materials.

Yet, according to industry analysts, many food producers, particularly smaller companies, are wither completely unaware of the risks or are ignoring them.

"If the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) decided to crackdown I think they will find a lot of non-compliance," said David Mairs, from leading project management company Projen.

Even when companies do take pains to ensure they meet the desired requirements often certain items can get missed, the most common being the computer equipment.

Obviously, computers, monitors and printers are electrical and can spark (particularly in dusty environments where the dust itself can short circuit boards), yet many companies neglect to ensure their IT is approved to use in that area. The most common reason for this neglect is put down to cost.

Obviously replacing all IT systems with intrinsically safe and air-purged machines can be extremely expensive, especially if you are in the habit of upgrading your IT on a regular basis.

However, there are lower priced alternatives. One way is to house all IT equipment into special industrial computer enclosures. These are widely available and can be manufactured in all materials including food-grade stainless steel. They have the advantage of not only preventing any fault in a computer or monitor from setting light to your factory but they also afford protection from knocks, bangs and explosions. They also have the advantage over specialist machines by the fact that enclosures merely house existing equipment which can be replaced and repaired whilst still retaining your original industrial pc enclosure.

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