CSB, Legislators and Unions Push for Combustible Dust Standard

After showing evidence of the “widespread and extensive damage” caused by a fatal sugar refinery explosion, the Chemical Safety Hazard and Investigation Board (CSB) stressed that the dangers of combustible dust explosions must be addressed. Following CSB's lead, lawmakers and union leaders petitioned OSHA to issue a workplace standard that would protect workers from combustible dust explosions.

The Feb. 7 explosion at the Imperial Sugar Co. in Port Wentworth, Ga., killed 12 employees and injured dozens of others. According to CSB Investigations Manager Stephen Selk, the incident caused severe damage to the facility, blowing off the tops of storage silos and blowing out brick walls in several buildings.

CSB officials suspect that combustible sugar dust may have ignited to cause the explosion and have “been concerned about dust explosions for at least 4 years.” A report conducted by the agency in 2006 revealed that OSHA had no comprehensive regulation to prevent dust explosions and that its program failed to address the problem. CSB made several recommendations to OSHA, but claimed it has only partly acted on them.

This has prompted Reps George Miller, D-Calif., and Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., to write a letter urging the Labor Department to work to prevent the hazards that lead to industrial worksite explosions. It also drove the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to file a petition to OSHA, demanding that an emergency temporary standard on combustible dust be issued so employers can implement immediate safety controls.

In their letter, Woolsey and Miller acknowledged OSHA's combustible dust safety and health information bulletin, as well as the Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program, but requested more details on how these activities are being conducted. They called on OSHA to provide data such as the number of Certified Safety and Health Officials (CSHOs) who received training in assessing and abating combustible dust hazards and the number of inspections or other activities so far conducted by OSHA's Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program by Feb. 25.

“Because of the continuing uncontrolled hazards of combustible dusts, issuing a mandatory combustible dust standard should be a high priority of OSHA,” they wrote.

On their end, the UFCW and the Teamsters asked OSHA in their petition that in addition to an emergency temporary standard, the agency should issue a permanent standard for dust hazards in general industry. The petition also urged OSHA to inspect sugar processing plants as well as implement a special emphasis program on combustible dust hazards in a wide range of industries where such hazards exist.

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