Foulke: Companies Prone to Dust Hazards to be Investigated

While visiting the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., where an explosion killed 12 workers and injured 11 others, OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke announced March 3 that the agency will inspect hundreds of companies where combustible dust is a workplace hazard.

Foulke was in town to assess the progress made by inspectors from OSHA, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) and Imperial Sugar. Preliminary reports point to combustible sugar dust as the culprit of the explosion, but it is still unclear what caused the dust to ignite.

Foulke told the Associated Press that OSHA has not completed its investigation of that explosion but is sending letters to 30,000 companies that deal with combustible dust to discuss the dangers.

He also said that more work needs to be done to determine whether existing standards on ventilation and factory housekeeping can be used to address existing concerns, as well as to devise a standard that is applicable to different industries with different types of dust.

Combustible dust standards were put in place for the grain industry in 1987 in response to various grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to CSB, OSHA has not acted on its 2006 recommendation to create similar standards for other industries.

Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., and House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said they will introduce a bill pushing OSHA to issue new regulations governing industrial dust. On Feb. 20, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters petitioned OSHA to take that step.

Miller scheduled a congressional hearing on the issue for March 12.

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