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

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chemical Safety Board Calls For OSHA Combustible Dust Standard

Three years after three combustible dust explosions killed 14 workers and injured 81, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board called today for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a standard to protect workers from the hazards of combustible dusts. The recommendation was a result of a two year CSB investigation into the hazards of combustible dusts and how to prevent them.
CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt stated, "Combustible dust fires and explosions are devastating, preventable, and often fatal tragedies. Dust explosions often cause loss of life and terrible economic consequences. While some programs to mitigate dust hazards exist at the state and local levels, they form a patchwork of adapted and adopted voluntary standards that are challenging to enforce. New federal standards are necessary to prevent further loss of life."

The investigation was initiated in 2004 following explosions the previous year in Kinston, North Carolina (West Pharmaceutical Services), Corbin, Kentucky (CTA Acoustics), and Huntington, Indiana (Hayes-Lemmerz).
According to the CSB,
The explosions, which occur when fine particles of combustible material are ignited, occur in many industries including rubber and plastic products, chemical manufacturing, primary metal, lumber and wood products, and food products, the CSB found.
The CSB investigation found that there had been 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers and injured 718. Although there are widely recognized voluntary consensus standards issued by the National Fire Protection Association to address combustible dust hazards, they are not generally enforced by fire code enforcement officials. Furthermore, there is currently no comprehensive OSHA standard that will protect workers from combustible dust explosions. OSHA issued a standard in 1987 that covers grain dust in grain handling facilities.

Tammy Miser, whose brother, Shawn Boone, was killed in the Hayes Lemmerz explosion, testified at the CSB hearing and called for an OSHA standard. (Tammy also assembles the Confined Space Weekly Toll and runs United Support Memorial For Workplace Fatalities, a webpage for the families of workplace fatalities.)

The Board's vote, however, was not unanimous. Two Board members voted against the report:
Gary Visscher, one of the two board members who voted against the recommendations, said a campaign to raise awareness about the risks of combustible dust would be more effective and faster than passing new OSHA regulations. He favored alliances between OSHA and various trade associations, safety organizations and labor unions to spread the word about combustible dust hazards.
Chairman Merritt, however, said:
I think regulation has to happen in order for industry to pay attention and to recognize these hazards and do something about controlling them.
The Board also called for OSHA to modify the Hazard Communication Standard to ensure that combustible dusts are clearly included as a "physical hazard."


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