Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"When the patients came, in they were smoking"

On February 20, 2003 Dr. George Liu treated workers who had been severely burned in the explosion and fire that ripped through the CTA Acoustics plant in Corbin that day.

"When the patients came, in they were smoking," Liu told a reporter. "The best thing people can do is pray for these people."
The Lexington Herald Leader was not pleased with the result of the Chemical Safety Board's investigation into the combustible dust explosion at CTA Acoustics that killed 7 workers.

Last week, federal investigators concluded that the explosion -- which killed seven workers and injured 37 others -- was avoidable. It was the result of company and supplier irresponsibility and a lack of effective government oversight.

That is unacceptable.

Kentucky's Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, which oversees the agency that polices workplace safety, must take the lead to assure this won't happen again.

The Kentucky Office of Occupational Safety and Health had inspected CTA several times but had never cited it for combustible dust while the state fire marshall's office had never inspected the plant.
State inspectors should be trained to assess the risk of combustible dust. Combustible dust should figure heavily in evaluations of general safety in plants. The state needs to educate employers about the dangers, make unannounced inspections and levy stiff fines on violators.

Our congressional delegation and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao should also take this report as a mandate to push for federal standards on industrial dust. Neither the federal nor the state OSHA has a comprehensive standard on combustible dust in industrial facilities.

That is the case despite the fact that more than 150 serious industrial dust explosions have happened in the U.S. in the past 20 years, according to the lead investigator of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board



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