The Chemical Safety Board's new safety video, "Combustible Dust: An Insidious Hazard," depicts how accumulations of combustible dust at industrial workplaces can provide the fuel for devastating explosions that kill and maim workers, shut down plants, and harm local economies.

Would your plant pass muster if Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors knocked on your door unannounced looking for potential combustible dust hazards?

As I chronicled in my June column, OSHA has stepped up its enforcement and regulatory activities, including announcing in April plans to initiate a comprehensive rulemaking on combustible dust to protect workers. These renewed efforts include wood dust.

OSHA reissued its Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program in March 2008, one month after 14 employees died and dozens more were injured in a dust explosion and fire at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, GA. Between March 11, 2008, and June 17, 2009, 3,662 violations were identified during 813 OSHA inspections in a wide variety of workplaces throughout the nation. Georgia companies made up an inordinate number of the citations. In just 32 visits of Georgia facilities, OSHA issued 311 citations of safety and health violations, with 90 percent categorized as willful, serious, repeat or failure to abate.

Most of the facilities subjected to the nationwide OSHA inspections were chosen at random. Among the violations most frequently cited include housekeeping, hazard communication, personal protective equipment, and electrical and general duty clauses.

Two Recent Wood Dust Related OSHA Cases Hit Home
Last month, ready-to-assemble furniture manufacturer Ameriwood was fined $108,700 and cited for six repeat violations and six serious violations stemming from a Jan. 20 inspection of its manufacturing plant in Tiffin, OH. Many of the alleged violations involved potential dust hazards, including failure to maintain and install spark detection and suppression equipment in several of the plant’s dust collectors.

In another recent case, OSHA levied more than $255,000 in fines for 60 alleged safety and health hazards against Sturn Ruger & Co. Inc., a manufacturer of firearms based in Newport, NH. According to OSHA, “safety hazards included the lack of spark detectors or suppression systems to minimize fire and explosion hazards in ventilation systems that collect combustible wood and metal dust, allowing combustible dust to accumulate.”

Some Free Advice
Don’t take this matter lightly or for granted.

OSHA has clearly made combustible dust enforcement a priority. The Imperial Sugar incident and other dust explosion-related tragedies have also caught the attention of Congress. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) have crafted legislation, “The Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act.”

If you harbor any doubts about whether your dust collection system, hazardous training, recordkeeping, etc. is up to snuff, I urge you to consider the following advice from Cindy Coe, OSHA regional administrator based in Atlanta “Any company that has combustible dust or thinks that it has combustible dust needs to intensify housekeeping, review hot-work processes, evaluate electrical equipment for possible Class II locations, prohibit smoking or flames in dust laden areas, ensure that relief venting on dust collection systems releases the dust to a safe location and develop and or review an emergency action plan.”

OSHA releases combustible dust hazards guide
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers a new guidance document aimed at helping manufacturers and importers recognize the potential for dust explosions, identify appropriate protective measures and disseminate this information on material safety data sheets and labels.

The document addresses the combustible dust hazards in relation to the Hazard Communication Standard, which is designed to ensure that chemical hazards, including wood dust, are evaluated and the potential risks are transmitted to employers and workers. Download a copy at osha.gov.

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