OSHA said yesterday it is reissuing itsCombustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP) Instruction, and as a result the agency will increase inspections at facilities that handle combustible dust.

The NEP will focus on specific industry groups that have experienced frequent combustible dust incidents.

"With this new Combustible Dust NEP, the agency will increase its activities in outreach, training and cooperative ventures with stakeholders, as well as enhance its enforcement activities," said OSHA chief Edwin G. Foulke Jr.

The purpose of the NEP, according to OSHA, is to inspect facilities that create or handle combustible dusts that can cause intense burning or other fire hazards when suspended in air, and can lead to explosions. Combustible dusts are finely ground organic or metal particles, fibers, fines, chips, chunks, flakes or small mixtures of these materials.

Under this revised NEP, each Area OSHA Office is expected to inspect at least four facilities each fiscal year. Under the previous NEP, each Area Office was expected to conduct at least one inspection.

In congressional testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday, Foulke said OSHA would consider rulemaking on combustible dust a “strong option,” but only if its investigation of the Feb. 7 Imperial Sugar refinery explosion and an inspection of existing standards reveal that the standards don't adequately mitigate the potential for combustible dust hazards.