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House democrats reintroduce bill requiring OSHA combustible dust standard (2/12)

February 12, 2009
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U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, reintroduced legislation to prevent workplace explosions timed with the anniversary of the Imperial Sugar refinery disaster in Port Wentworth, Ga., which killed 14 workers and injured dozens. The day prior to the bill being reintroduced, six workers were injured when a coal dust collector at a power plant in suburban Milwaukee exploded while it was being cleaned, according to a news release issued by the Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

The “Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act,” H.R. 849, would require OSHA to issue rules regulating combustible industrial dusts, like sugar dust, that can build up to hazardous levels and explode.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed similar legislation last April by a vote of 247 to 165.

“This deadly workplace hazard has been known and understood too long for us to continue to do nothing,” said Miller. “Yesterday’s news that another combustible dust explosion occurred in Wisconsin is further evidence that our nation needs to act. I hope that with today’s bill introduction and the arrival of a new administration, our nation will finally help workers and business stop these preventable, and all too often, deadly explosions.”

“We’ve been told over and over that it’s not a question of if this type of accident is going to happen again, but when,” said Rep. Barrow. “We need to put regulations that work in the workplace. I don’t care how long it will take, but I’m going to keep on pushing it until it gets done.”

“While OSHA turned a blind eye to this issue under President Bush, I know that the new administration will confront this threat with the urgency that it deserves,” said Woolsey.

In 2006, following a series of fatal combustible dust explosions, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards and identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers, injured 718 others, and extensively damaged industrial facilities. The CSB found no comprehensive OSHA rules that effectively control the risk of industrial dust explosions and recommended that OSHA issue a standard.

The “Worker Protection against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act” would address these hazards by:

1) Directing OSHA to issue interim rules on combustible dust within 90 days. The rules would include measures to minimize hazards associated with combustible dust through improved housekeeping, engineering controls, worker training and a written combustible dust safety program;

2) Directing OSHA to issue final rules within 18 months. The rules would be based on effective voluntary standards devised by the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit organization. In addition to items required in the interim rules, the final rules would include requirements for building design and explosion protection. The interim rules would remain in effect until the final rules are issued; and

3) Directing OSHA to revise the hazard communication standard, which warns workers of potential on-the-job hazards, to include combustible dusts.

When dust builds up to dangerous levels in industrial worksites, it can become fuel for fires and explosions. Combustible dust can come from many sources, such as sugar, flour, feed, plastics, wood, rubber, furniture, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dyes, coal, and metals.

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