OSHA Addresses Need for Combustible Dust Standard

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in the October 21, 2009, Federal Register as an initial step in developing a standard to address the hazards of combustible dust.

“Last year, 14 workers lost their lives in a combustible dust explosion at Imperial Sugar in Port Wentworth, GA,” said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. “Since 1980, more than 130 workers have been killed and more than 780 injured in combustible dust explosions.”

OSHA has been conducting a Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP) since October 2007; a status report is available on OSHA’s Combustible Dust Safety and Health Topics Web page at www.osha.gov/dep/combustible_dust/combustible_dust_nep_rpt_102009.html. The NEP has resulted in an unusually high number of general duty clause violations, indicating a strong need for a combustible dust standard. According to OSHA, the general duty clause is not as effective as a comprehensive combustible dust standard would be at protecting workers. Responses to questions posed in the ANPR will help the agency propose an effective combustible dust standard.

Support for a combustible dust standard came from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board 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.

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. Dust from rendered proteins can also cause a fire or explosion under the right conditions.

The public has until January 19, 2010, to comment on the proposed ANPR. The agency is also conducting informal stakeholder meetings on December 14, 2009, in Washington, DC, with additional meetings to be held in early 2010.

The agency states it will analyze all information and comments received from the public at the meetings and in response to the proposed ANPR in developing a proposed rule on combustible dust.

December 2009 RENDER | back