You have read on the Woodworking Network about various combustible dust-related fires and OSHA inspections. While OSHA currently does not yet have a formal combustible dust standard, that is NOT preventing OSHA inspectors from issuing citations related to combustible dust using current regulations.

With a salute to National Safety Month, this post will focus specifically on reviewing a recent OSHA inspection that yielded multiple citations. In the process, I will explain how OSHA is using the existing regulations to cite violations as they relate to combustible dust, in this case combustible wood dust.

The first citation from this particular inspection states, “layers of combustible wood dust were allowed to accumulate to depths over surface areas in quantities that exposed workers to fire and or explosion hazards.”  This citation references 29 CFR 1910.22(a)(1).  Here’s how the rule breaks down:

  • Title 29 includes regulations related to “Labor.”
  • CFR is the “Code of Federal Regulations.”
  •  Part 1910 is the “Occupational Safety and Health Standards.”
  • Section 22 is “General Requirements” (a) “Housekeeping” (1) “All places of employment, passageways, storerooms, and service room shall be kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition.” 

So the layers of wood dust in this citation were in direct violation of the current “housekeeping” regulation.  This combustible wood dust accumulated on I-beams, inside trough of ceiling joists and on the floor.

The OSHA citation continues: “(W)hen combustible wood dust was cleared from surfaces, the employer used cleaning methods that increased the potential for a combustible dust deflagration and or explosion” because “the employer used 30 psi compressed air to blowdown and clear combustible wood dust.”  

The current “standard” (NFPA 664 2012) states 15 psi as being the proper blow pressure. In this context a “standard” is a consensus created by volunteers representing various viewpoints which is then administered by a trade organization; OSHA refers to this as a “voluntary industry consensus standard.”

In this case NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) is the organization that oversees the development of NFPA 664 (2012) which is the standard for the “Prevention of Fires and Explosion in Wood Processing and Woodworking Facilities.”  The OSHA citation in question specifically refers to the NFPA 664 (2012) 11.2.11. It states, “Surfaces shall be cleaned in a manner that minimizes the generation of dust clouds…only a low gauge pressure 15 psi…shall be used.”

While the NFPA standard is not a regulation or law, it is used by the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) which in this case is OSHA and OSHA has the authority to issue citations.

Second Citation Cites General Duty Clause
The second citation is also worthy of exploration.  In this case the “general duty clause” is cited.  Section 5(a)(1)is part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.  Which states under Section 5 “Duties” “(a) Each employer --  (1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” 

The general duty clause is basically an all-encompassing regulation that OSHA uses if there is a perceived violation that is NOT covered by any other regulation.

In the second citation there are 11 areas that fall under the general duty clause and all relate to combustible dust violations.  Additionally, each area references methods of acceptable abatement and reference NFPA standards.

Since the first combustible dust stakeholder meeting hosted by OSHA that I attended in 2009 there has been discussion and research done by OSHA toward the creation of a combustible dust standard.  As of this date there is no formal timeline for a standard but combustible dust is still in the rulemaking process. 

OSHA did, however, issue a modification of the Hazardous Communication Standard in March (2012) to include Combustible Dust as a hazardous chemical. By doing so, OSHA’s has expanded the depth of its ability to using more detailed sections of the CFR in citing combustible dust violations. The biggest issue is the lack of a definition for combustible dust.  There is, however, now a clearly defined standard that requires “labeling” under the newly defined GHS (Globally Harmonized System) because combustible dust hazards “may form combustible dust concentrations in the air.”

Not to worry, you have till December 2013 before the first requirements take effect.

Jamison Scott is a corporate officer of Air Handling Systems of Woodbridge, CT, and also the chairman of the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America’s Combustible Dust Task Force. He can be reached at jscott@airhand.com.

Readers interested in more information on the combustible dust issue should check out www.wmma.org/wood-industry-resources/dust.cfm or airhand.com/combustibledust.aspx.

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