Unions Petition OSHA for Emergency Dust Standard

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a petition to OSHA to demand an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from combustible dust explosions, such as the recent fatal blast at a Georgia sugar refinery.

According to UFCW, additional labor organizations also support the petition, which was filed in response to the tragic Feb. 7 explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery located near Savannah, Ga. Nine workers died and scores more were injured in that blast, and preliminary reports indicate that combustible dust may have caused the explosion.

An emergency temporary standard would require employers working with combustible dust hazards such as sugar dust to institute immediate safety controls. The petition also asks OSHA to issue a permanent standard control of combustible dust hazards in general industry; inspect sugar processing plants; and implement a special emphasis program on combustible dust hazards in a wide range of industries where such hazards exist.

The Chemical Safety Hazard and Investigation Board (CSB) investigated three catastrophic dust explosions in 2003 that killed 14 workers, and also conducted a subsequent larger study to determine the extent of industrial dust explosions. CSB’s report noted that a quarter of the explosions that occurred between 1980 and 2005 happened at food industry facilities like sugar plants. As a result of its research, CSB made several recommendations to OSHA, including advising the agency to issue a comprehensive regulatory measure on combustible dust hazards.

CSB said that OSHA has only “partly acted” on its recommendations.

UFCW and the Teamsters state that OSHA should issue a standard similar to the Grain Handling Facilities Standards that was issued in 1987. The agency issued the standard in response to various grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

According to UFCW, the standard was effective in reducing the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry. The standard’s only flaw, according to UCFW, is that it stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

For more information, read CSB, Legislators Push for Combustible Dust Standard.

TAGS: Archive OSHA
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