Investigators of Hoeganaes’ Tragedies Push for ComDust Rule
January 6, 2012 | 3:23 pm CST
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Investigators of Hoeganaes’ Tragedies Push for ComDust RuleIt’s been all quiet on the combustible dust rule making front since the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration held its last in a string of public hearings on the subject in May.

But don’t expect things to stay quiet much longer.

In fact, the drumbeat for creating a ComDust rule started up again with Wednesday’s release of the Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) final investigation report on the three tragic fires/explosions at Hoeganaes’ powered metal plant in Gallatin, TN.

Among its recommendations, the CSB urged OSHA to develop and publish a proposed combustible dust standard within one year.

“Dust fires and explosions continue to claim lives and destroy property in many industries,” said CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure Eraso. “More must be done to control this hazard. No more lives should be lost from these preventable accidents.”

The three Hoeganaes plant accidents, which occurred on January 31, March 29 and May 27 of last year, killed five workers and injured three others. The CSB determined that the accidents could have been prevented if Hoeganaes had done a better job of cleaning house and training its employees to exercise more caution in their work.

According to the CSB report, “significant amounts of fine iron powder had accumulated over time at the Hoeganaes facility, and that while the company knew from its own testing and experience with flash fires in the plant that the dust was combustible, it did not take the necessary action to reduce the hazards through engineering controls and basic housekeeping. The investigation also found that Hoeganaes did not institute procedures such as combustible gas monitoring or provide training for employees on avoiding flammable gas fires and explosions.”

  • Highlights revealed in the report included: Just 16 days after the CSB released test results demonstrating the combustibility of iron dust samples taken from the plant after the second accident, a hydrogen gas explosion erupted from a corroded furnace pipe. The May 27 blast shook loose iron dust accumulations from the upper reaches of the building, which ignited and rained down on workers. The explosion and ensuing fire killed three workers and injured two others.  One would think that these accumulations would have been identified and eliminated following one of the first two accidents.
  • CSB investigators found that the plant’s conveyors for handling powder were not “adequately sealed” to contain the fine dust from getting airborne.
  • CSB recommends that the International Code Council, which sets safety standards that may be adopted by state and local governments, revise its standards to require mandatory compliance and enforcement with the detailed requirements of NFPA standards related to preventing accumulation of combustible dust in workplaces.

    NFPA guidelines for addressing combustible dust have been at the forefront of OSHA’s proposed rulemaking process. Many in woodworking and other industries have expressed concern that making NFPA’s voluntary standards law could be too costly and onerous for manufacturing operations that generate small quantities of wood dust.

    The CSB released a study on ComDust hazards in 2006 and urged OSHA to create a combustible dust standard for general energy. While OSHA did initiate a National Emphasis Program in 2007 to target wood products manufacturers and other dust generating industries, it did not announce the proposed ComDust rule making until more than a year after the February 2008 massive explosion at Imperial Sugar in Port Wentworth, GA,  that killed 14 workers and injured dozens more.

    The CSB report was critical of OSHA for taking so long to propose a combustible dust rule that might have prevented the accidents at Hoeganaes.

    As I have repeatedly reminded readers in writing on this subject, don’t become a wood ComDust statistic. Act now to make sure your plant is well maintained and your employees well trained.

    Video: Recreating a Fatal ComDust Fire

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