The Irish Dairy Industry – Mitigating an explosive risk

Earlier this year MSIG at Lloyds and JLT Ireland hosted the inaugural ‘Spray Drying Symposium’ at the Castleknock Hotel, Dublin. It was the first time that industry experts and representatives from Irish Dairy companies including Glanbia, Lakeland Dairy, Dairygold, Aurivo, Kerry Group, Carbery and Tipperary Co-op came together to share their knowledge, experience and openly discuss the risks associated with the industry – notably the activity of spray drying.

In contrast to the UK where we drink the majority of the milk we produce, Ireland produces far more than it needs and so the majority is converted to other products such as cheese, butter and cream and a large proportion of it is dried and turned into a variety of powders, mostly destined for the export market.  Ireland is the tenth largest dairy exporter in the world, exporting  85%, or 4590 billion litres of milk annually and produces 10% of the world’s infant milk formula, providing two thirds of Asia’s overall imports. With EU milk quotas lifted, as of the start of 2015, production is expected to grow by 50% by 2020, and this increased production will amplify the risks.

Yet the drying of milk is a high risk activity. Spray dried powder is present in two potentially dangerous physical states in a spray drying plant. Firstly as fine airborne powder/ dust cloud, or as deposits on the inner surface of the spray dryer.

Both present separate dangers: while the dust cloud could potentially explode, the deposits pose a risk of self-ignition. With certain parts of the spray dryers reaching temperatures of 250 degrees, any deposit build up is susceptible to self-ignition. This can in turn cause an explosion, by falling back into the main drying container from an outlet, or igniting powder suspended in the air.

While analysing the specific circumstances of historic claims and reviewing technical data within our risk engineering reports, MSIG at Lloyds and others were able to discern that there was a wide variation in how these spray drying processes are physically arranged, protected and managed, but no clear reason why these variations exist.

By bringing together key members of Ireland’s dairy industry to discuss a common concern, the Symposium aimed to create closer cooperation and a sharing economy of ideas. We realise that in order for industry wide safety to become possible, cooperation between producers is key. Over thirty representatives from Irish dairy companies attended, demonstrating that there is an appetite for closer cooperation and information sharing. We hope that this event will be the start of a closer association with those charged with ensuring the safety of dry spraying operations and in time, this might well lead to the development and adoption of best practice standards across and increase safety across the industry as a whole.

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