Dust Management Design Solutions:

Meeting today’s standards and regulations for worker safety, health, and protection of the environment

An Interview with Steven Yee, P.Eng., M.A.Sc.


Steven Yee is the Vice President of Engineering and Development at CWA Engineers Inc. In his current role, Steven is responsible for maintaining the highest technical standards for CWA’s engineering team, including quality control, safety and the development of CWA’s young talent.

During his 30 years as a consultant, Steven has executed projects from concept to completion in a range of industrial sectors with capital values of up to $900 million on 5 different continents. His diverse background includes hands-on, practical experience obtained through working closely with operations and maintenance staff at operating facilities.

Steven’s mandate is to minimize environmental impacts and safety hazards while maximizing efficiency and optimizing industrial facility operations; the design of uniquely tailored dust management solutions is an integral component of this mandate.

Why should companies with operations in heavy industry be concerned about dust management?

STEVEN: In this day and age, I think there ‘s a much greater awareness and focus on the health and safety of workers, the environmental issues that surround dust and the optics of that, as well as the practical concerns that are involved when dust gets into the environment.

When we are talking about health and safety, this encompasses issues such as employees working in dusty environments inhaling fine dust particles, and the long-term effects of this on workers’ lungs and overall health, as well as concerns about toxicology. So, from the standpoint of workers’ safety, we need to ensure that employees’ health is maintained and is not being put at risk.

Another issue from a safety standpoint is the danger of explosions and fires initiated by the buildup of combustible dust. In the past, we have seen these types of explosions and fires occurring at sawmills, chemical factories, and other types of facilities where the buildup of dust presents a serious hazard, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Then, from an environmental standpoint, companies now recognize the increasing importance of maintaining their social license to operate within the community. In past decades, people would see a dusty facility and just think, well OK, that’s just an operating facility, and generally, most people were not as aware of the health risks posed by dust back then as they are today. There might have been issues with dust settling onto people’s cars or getting into their houses in the surrounding community, and this was just considered to be part of living near an industrial facility.

Nowadays, people are increasingly conscious of the health and environmental risks posed by the dust produced at these facilities. Because of this increased awareness, today’s companies are taking active take steps to ensure that workers and the public at large are not being put at risk, ensuring they will continue to have the social licence needed to keep their facilities operating in their communities. It’s about more than simply meeting the legal requirements and regulations, it’s ultimately about being a responsible corporate citizen in the community. So, these are the social issues that make dust a real concern for companies operating in heavy industry today.

Then, looking at the issue of dust from a purely economic point of view, when you have dust escaping into the environment, that is actually product that you’re losing; product that, number one, can be sold, and number two, if it escapes and gets out of your facility into the surrounding community, you of course will have to go and clean that up, and naturally there are costs associated with that as well. So, aside from the health and social issues, there are also very significant economic considerations.

Are companies making changes to their systems in order to meet the increasingly stringent regulations and community standards?

STEVEN: Yes, absolutely. We are seeing that the guidelines are changing all the time, with added regulations as well as increasing concern in affected local communities. So, many of these issues that I’ve just mentioned come into play when companies are looking to design or upgrade their industrial processing systems.

At what types of facilities is dust management of particular concern?

STEVEN: Certainly at dry bulk marine terminals. There is a significant amount of product going through these facilities and quite often these operations are highly visible to the public. Also of concern is the fact that these operations are often adjacent to marine environments, which, of course, are areas that are highly regulated, often having very stringent rules and legal requirements designed to protect wildlife, fisheries, and sensitive ecosystems.

What are some of the traditional methods that industry has used to manage dust?

STEVEN: Companies have developed various means to do this, such as enclosing their product in large storage sheds to prevent it from escaping into the environment. There are also a lot of active systems which have traditionally been employed to manage dust, such as dust collectors, cyclones, baghouses, capturing spillage in spill trays, and putting the product into storage bins.

That sounds like more of a reactive approach to dust management, would you say that’s true?

STEVEN: Yes, in a way. These strategies that I’ve mentioned are what we call active solutions, where you take active measures to extract dust from the facility’s environment.

I think as we progress towards the future of dust control, these types of traditional methods are still going to be useful. But going forward, we are really moving toward designing what are known as passive systems, which prevent the dust from even being generated in the first place.

In the bulk materials handling side of our business we achieve this through specially designed conveyors and chutework that can handle the product a lot more softly. We optimize things like conveyor belt speeds, drop heights, transfer chute configurations, loader travel distances, and other components in order to passively reduce dust generation and exhaust emissions. We call these soft transfer systems, where we work to develop processes that do not allow the fine particles to escape from the product stream.

Has the approach to dust management changed the way that CWA is now designing facilities?

STEVEN: Yes, definitely! Improvements to design technology over the years have really enhanced our ability to design these passive systems. We are currently using advanced design methods, such as Discrete Element Method (DEM) modeling, to validate our chutework designs. Our objective is to keep the product in laminar flow, because, if the material becomes turbulent while progressing through the system, it tends to kick up a lot of dust. So, in designing our passive systems we aim to design chutework that will result in laminar flow, or streamlined flow, to prevent any turbulence that would cause the product to escape as dust.

We also use Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling in our design, to evaluate the tendency of the material’s dust particles to become airborne. The goal is to design our conveyors and chutework such that the product particles will not have the opportunity to become airborne. We achieve this by reducing the velocity of the particles to keep them at a manageable speed.

So, is the dust is being eliminated?

STEVEN: It is not dust elimination per se, because the dust is not actually gone; however, the passive system is simply not letting the fine particles become airborne in the first place. So, whereas the traditional active methods focus on mitigating the effects of dust once it has been created, these passive methods that we integrate into our designs prevent the dust from escaping from the product stream.

Is designing dust control systems for greenfield sites different than for brownfield sites?

STEVEN: Well, obviously in a greenfield facility it is a lot easier to meet the required regulations and bring in whatever equipment or system that you need.

In a greenfield situation, other than budgetary constraints, you have the ability to design everything from the ground up.

With brownfield facilities it can be a little more difficult. At a brownfield site you are limited by the pre-existing geometry, the equipment that’s already in place, and the space constraints of the facility. So, companies need to consider whether the payback justifies the expense in a lot of cases. It is often the case that you will have to become a little bit more creative in brownfield situations, but that is where our unique custom design solutions really excel.

Are facility upgrades for dust management solutions becoming more common?

As a company, I can tell you that a lot of the requests that our business receives now are from brownfield sites that are not able to meet current standards or best practices, and they are seeing issues with the public, internal safety committees or authorities having jurisdiction as a consequence of this.

This goes back to the concept of social license that I was talking about earlier, with companies today not only needing to meet current regulations, but also requiring that social license in order to work and continue to operate in their communities. So, today’s companies do need to come up with new, creative solutions because it is increasingly important for them to be responsible corporate community members.

What sets CWA apart in the field of engineering design solutions for dust management?

STEVEN: One of the key advantages that our company has been very fortunate to have is that, over the years we have acquired a real breadth of experience across sectors— we are not limited to a specific type of facility or a specific sector of industry.

Our company is frequently asked to go into brownfield facilities to perform audits of our clients’ systems, where we will conduct a walk-through of their operations to identify the dust emission points — the ‘bad actors’ within their systems. Based on the audit, further analysis, and client consultations, we can then design tailored dust management solutions drawing from our experience with the many types of facilities that we have worked with in the past.

We have provided dust management solutions to various facilities for a wide variety of companies over the years. And because of the wide range of work that we have performed, we have developed the ability to be creative and adaptive, both operationally and on the design side, taking ideas and advances occurring in one particular sector, and then applying these in the design of systems for clients in other sectors.

Having this range of experience to draw on allows us to incorporate solutions from all the facilities that we have worked with in the past and to offer multiple options for the facilities that we have been asked to improve.

How important are ongoing monitoring strategies for dust management at operating facilities?

STEVEN: Once the design solutions are implemented, ongoing reporting will be required by the relevant regulatory agencies to ensure that the facility is meeting their emissions limits – both in terms of safety and environmental regulations. So, it is very important for facilities to be continuously monitoring.

It is also very important from an efficiency and optimization standpoint. From our company’s perspective, it’s always important to go back and assess how the systems that we’ve implemented are working, to ensure they are functioning in a way that is optimized for efficiency and for meeting the required emission limits.

Because of our business model, we have been very lucky to get the opportunity to see the results of our efforts. Our services range from concept development and detailed engineering design through to commissioning, asset maintenance and operations support, so we have a broad understanding of the complete project life cycle as well as the ongoing needs of our clients in terms of asset reliability and maintenance. We are always working to achieve continuous improvement for our clients, beginning with the initial concept and design, and continuing throughout the life-cycle of their operations, and I think that our clients really appreciate that.

Do you have any predictions for the future of dust management?

STEVEN: Well, I can tell you that the regulations are not going to become any less stringent, so it is important for us to stay abreast of any changes to industry standards and regulations and to assist our clients in meeting these when they come into effect.

It is also critical that we help our clients meet these new standards in a way that makes sense both economically and in in terms of allowing them to maintain that social license.

We take pride in designing systems that allow our clients to meet their goal to be responsible corporate citizens within their community. CWA’s goal is to design dust management solutions that meet and exceed the local environmental and safety standards and allow our client’s operations to contribute to the economy in a very positive way.