AIHce 2012: Imperial Sugar CEO Laments Lack of Combustible Dust Standard

Imperial Sugar President and CEO John C. Sheptor told attendees at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo (AIHce) that he was disappointed a combustible dust standard has not been enacted in the years following the 2008 explosion that killed more than a dozen Imperial Sugar employees.

The Feb. 7, 2008 combustible dust explosion at the Imperial Sugar Co. refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., killed 14 workers and injured dozens more. The explosion, which caused extensive damage to the Imperial Sugar facility and resulted in $8 million in proposed OSHA fines, is attributed to accumulated sugar dust that found an ignition source and started a flash fire.

During the June 20 AIHce general session in Indianapolis, Sheptor described the company’s recovery and said he was pleased with the response, both from the company itself and from the industry at large. Even so, he added he is disappointed "… that we still do not have a combustible dust standard. There needs to be a standard that educates on proper ways of managing combustible dust."

OSHA initiated rulemaking in October 2009 to address the fire and explosion hazards of combustible dust. The agency, however, has not made notable progress with the standard, drawing criticism from some safety stakeholders and the Chemical Safety Board. In a January 2011 Web chat, OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels called combustible dust legislation "a complex project" and said OSHA "must conduct considerable research to ensure that the resulting standard effectively protects workers and meets legal requirements."

Sheptor urged EHS professionals at AIHce to be proactive in order to prevent combustible dust incidents, and asserted that prevention should begin with a commitment to safety from the highest levels of management.

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