Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Should OSHA Adopt a Combustible Dust Standard?

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Should OSHA Adopt a Combustible Dust Standard?

Article excerpt


The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety held a July 29 hearing to discuss OSHA's role in protecting workers from combustible dust explosions and whether a new standard is needed to best mitigate this hazard.

The hearing was held just days after OSHA proposed an $8.77 million fine against Imperial Sugar Co. for violations related to a Feb. 7 explosion at the company's refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga. This blast, which was caused when combustible sugar dust ignited, killed 13 workers and injured more than 40 others.

In her opening statement, Subcommittee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said OSHA's recent proposed fines for Imperial Sugar are "too late" for the 13 workers who died and those injured by the explosion.

"Without a specific, dust-related standard, OSHA's ability to levy specific citations or penalties is limited," she added.

While OSHA has not taken steps toward a combustible dust standard, the agency did issue a National Emphasis Program (NEP) for combustible dust in 2007 and reissued this program in 2008.

During his testimony, OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. said that after inspecting Imperial Sugar's Gramercy, La., and Port Wentworth, Ga., facilities, OSHA concluded that the company's negligence led to the explosion.

"Imperial Sugar is a tragic example of what happens when employers fail to uphold their obligations to protect employees as required by the [OSH Act]," he said.

He also emphasized that the OSH Act requires employers to maintain a safe work place. "That is their responsibility," Foulke said. "Some people like to pass the buck, to be quite frank. They want to try to shift the blame away from them and put it on someone else."

Although not ruling out a new standard to regulate combustible dust, Foulke pointed out that OSHA already has effective standards in place that address combustible dust standards, including standards for general requirements for the accumulation of combustible dust, electrical safety in hazardous locations, ventilation and hazard communication. …

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