ASSE Comments on Proposed Combustible Dust Legislation

Aug. 18, 2008
In a statement offered in response to the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety’s July 29 hearing on combustible dust, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) urged caution in addressing hazardous dust risks legislatively without developing a deeper understanding of current OSHA standards, enforcement and the approach taken through national consensus standards.

ASSE recognized that legislation may be necessary to help combat combustible dust hazards, especially in light of recent incidents, such as the fatal February 2008 explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga. ASSE also supports the “Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act of 2008” (HR 5522), legislation introduced by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., including the bill’s assurance that any new OSHA rule concerning combustible dust will not be less effective than the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) voluntary consensus standards.

But several other issues related to managing combustible dust must also be addressed by the legislation, ASSE pointed out. Most important is the lack of adequate OSHA resources to conduct inspections, which can contribute to missing dangerous workplaces and may result in inspections that are hurried or completed without an adequate basis in training.

ASSE also advised that, due to the complex technical and policy issues involved, Congress should require OSHA to address the issue through negotiated rulemaking, which mirrors the voluntary consensus-building process used by industry and the occupational safety and health community to address combustible dust.

In addition, ASSE expressed concern over setting unrealistic dates for OSHA to issue an interim final standard within 90 days of enactment followed by a final standard within 18 months. The complexities posed by the current statutory obligations under the Administrative Procedure Act, the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Act (SBRFA) and the required regulatory and economic impact analyses led ASSE to conclude that completion of a final rule within 24 months is a more realistic goal.

Allotting more time would allow Congress working with OSHA and the occupational safety and health community to address what may be the key underlying difficulty with the current regulatory approach to combustible dust, ASSE said. And with 17 different OSHA regulations impacting combustible dust risks, some employers may experience difficulties when working to establish a cohesive and effective combustible dust hazard management program in a workplace.

ASSE added that while no simple answer to the complexities involved in managing combustible dust exists, a more organized, comprehensive approach by OSHA is needed to facilitate compliance. ASSE stressed that an answer to combustible dust risk management should be based on sound science and done in a way that affords all stakeholders due process, without any undue delay.

For more information on the hearing, read Should OSHA Adopt a Combustible Dust Standard?

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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