5 years after deadly industrial combustible dust accident, new bill

On Feb. 7, 2007, 14 workers were killed and dozens more injured when combustible dust caused a massive explosion at the Imperial Sugar factory in Port Wentworth, Georgia. The deadly industrial accident certainly gave nationwide attention to the dangers of explosive dust from sugar, wood, coal and metal accumulating in manufacturing facilities, although it is estimated that 50 more explosions or fires caused by combustible dust have occurred since that time.

Recently, three U.S. House representatives re-introduced a bill called the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act. The bill is intended to require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to set national standards for the prevention of these accidents — and to include in those standards the relevant standards already developed by the National Fire Protection Association.

There are some critics who have objected to applying the NFPA standards applied to all industries. However, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board points out that 15 people have been killed and 127 injured in combustible dust explosions and fires in only the last five years.

The three lawmakers want OSHA to set up interim and final dust control standards, to develop rules for hazard assessments performed by employers, and even to consider rules on building design for factories that would include explosion protection. Still, even they admit it is likely to take OSHA at least four more years to begin enforcement of a combustible dust standard.

“While OSHA has taken some limited steps to protect workers and property from combustible dust explosions,” said one of the representative, “the widely recommended protections necessary to prevent these explosions are caught up in red tape and special interest objections.”

“While some industries have taken steps to address these hazards, workers are still being killed and injured,” he added. “The only way to overcome these unnecessary delays is through the targeted legislation that will expedite protections, because red tape must not be turned into an excuse not to protect workers from a preventable tragedy.”

Source: Woodworking Network, “Combustible Dust Bill Re-Introduced in House,” Rich Christianson, Feb. 17, 2013

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