Georgia Issues Combustible Dust Regulations

March 13, 2008
In order to improve safety for industrial workers and prevent catastrophic explosions such as the fatal Feb. 7 Imperial Sugar refinery blast, Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John W. Oxendine issued new regulations for industries in the state that produce inflammable dust.

“These regulations will set new standards for safety in industries that produce flammable dust in their manufacturing processes,” Oxendine said.

He said the new rules will require all industries in Georgia that produce combustible dust to draw up emergency plans, practice implementing the plans and train employees in evacuation techniques.

At Oxendine’s request, the International Fire Code Committee has approved for their final action hearings, requirements for factory fire emergency evacuation procedures and drills for the 2009 edition of the International Fire Code.

All manufacturers in Georgia will be required to have a designated safety officer. Monthly reporting will ensure that emergency plans are in place and drills are conducted, according to the rule. Additionally, the rule will require facilities making, processing or handling combustible particulate solids that create combustible dust to comply with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E-2004, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, as well as numerous other NFPA standards.

“The explosion and fire at the Imperial Sugar plant was the most devastating loss of life in Georgia in 16 years,” Oxendine said. “I want to make sure this type of accident never happens again.”

Oxendine Commended During March 12 Hearing

Oxendine's actions were commended during the March 12 House Education and Labor committee hearing, which focused on passing H.R. 5522, dubbed the Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act.

The measure, introduced by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., would force OSHA to issue rules regulating combustible industrial dusts that can accumulate and explode.

“Georgia isn't waiting,” Barrows said. “[Oxendine] has exercised his authority under Georgia law to adopt the voluntary standards promulgated by the people who know best how to prevent these disasters from happening – the NFPA – and made them mandatory in Georgia.”

Barrows noted that Oxendine's initiative shed new light on the debate as it potentially could mean that companies can move to other states where there aren't mandatory regulations put in place that would address the hazards associated with combustible dust. This could result in U.S. workers losing their jobs to other workers from different states.

“We now have to worry about Americans losing their jobs to other Americans, just because they happen to live in states where they haven't learned the lessons of Imperial Sugar yet,” he said. “Unsafe competition is unfair competition.”

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