OSHA Proposes Rulemaking for Combustible Dust Standard

Oct. 21, 2009
OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in the Oct. 21 edition of the Federal Register as an initial step in development of a standard to address the hazards of combustible dust.

“It’s time for workers to stop dying in preventable combustible dust explosions,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Workplace safety is not a slogan. It’s a priority clearly embodied in our laws.”

“Since 1980, more than 130 workers have been killed and more than 780 injured in combustible dust explosions,” added acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab.

In the ANPR’s request for comments, OSHA included dozen of questions “to facilitate the collection of needed information and to facilitate public comment on relevant issues.” The questions cover industry background; definition of combustible dust; hazard recognition; hazard assessment; hazard communication and training; consensus, industry and insurance standards; state and local codes; engineering controls; administrative controls; emergency response; investigation of incidents; regulatory approach; economic impacts and benefits; impacts on small entities; and compliance assistance.

According to OSHA, responses to questions posed in the ANPR will help the agency propose an effective combustible dust standard.

The notice can be accessed at http://frwebgate4.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/TEXTgate.cgi?WAISdocID=12940093048+0+1+0&WAISaction=retrieve.

Combustible Dust NEP

OSHA has conducted a Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP) since October 2007. The NEP has resulted in an unusually high number of general duty clause violations, indicating a strong need for a combustible dust standard. The general duty clause is not as effective as a comprehensive combustible dust standard would be at protecting workers.

The conclusion of OSHA’s October 2009 Status Report on Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program stated: “OSHA is taking, and will continue to take, strong enforcement actions to address combustible dust hazards. The Agency’s strong enforcement of applicable regulatory and statutory requirements combined with education and outreach to employers and employees is helping to protect the safety and health of working men and women who may be exposed to combustible dust hazards. However, OSHA recognized that there are limitations to this approach, and OSHA has also initiated rulemaking to provide more targeted tools to address combustible dust hazards.”

Combustible dusts are solids ground into fine particles, fibers, chips, chunks or flakes that can cause a fire or explosion when suspended in air under certain conditions. Types of dust likely to combust include metal (aluminum and magnesium), wood, plastic or rubber, coal, flour, sugar and paper.

Support for a combustible dust standard came from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in 2006 and again in 2008 during a congressional hearing when the board said a new standard, combined with enforcement and education, could save workers’ lives.

The public has 90 days to comment on the proposed ANPR. OSHA also will conduct stakeholder meetings and will analyze all information and comments received from the public in developing a proposed rule on combustible dust.


CSB recently released a new safety video on the Imperial Sugar explosion.

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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