House Committee Passes Combustible Dust Bill

In a bipartisan voice vote, the House Education and Labor Committee passed legislation to spur OSHA into issuing an interim final standard regulating combustible industrial dust within 90 days and a finalized standard within 18 months.

An OSHA standard on combustible dust, House Democrats said, would help protect workers by requiring industries to better train employees about dust risks and more thoroughly inspect, clean and ventilate their plants.

The bill was introduced by Committee Chairman Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Rep. John Barrows, D-Ga., in response to the Feb. 7 explosion that ripped through the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga. The blast killed 13 workers and injured more than 60 others.

In addition, a 2006 Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) report investigating combustible dust incidents prompted Congress to take immediate legislative action, as CSB found that no OSHA standard effectively controls the risk of industrial dust explosions.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., introduced an amendment addressing some of the concerns raised by the bill's opposition, such as the timing of the final standard. She said the bill was modified to move some of the provisions for the interim final standard — building design explosion protection, management of change — over to the final standard.

In addition, she proposed moving the reference to OSHA incorporating rules based on current National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) dust explosion standards from the interim final standard to the final standard, due to the “difficulty involving translating seven NFPA standards into one OSHA standard.” The amendment also allows OSHA the flexibility to adopt appropriate provisions for the NFPA standards into the final standard.

Finally, the amendment gives OSHA the discretion to find an appropriate definition for “combustible dust” under the Hazard Communication standard, with the condition that the term be listed under the standard's “physical hazard” subsection. Her amendment was approved by a committee voice vote.

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