At a Senate hearing yesterday, John Bresland, chairman and CEO of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), called on OSHA to act on a November 2006 CSB recommendation to adopt a comprehensive standard regulating combustible dust in the workplace, according to a press statement issued by the CSB.

Speaking before the Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Chairman Bresland said this year's tragedy which killed 13 workers at Imperial Sugar's Georgia refinery, caused when sugar dust was ignited and exploded, demonstrates the need for a new OSHA standard that would cover a range of industries exposed to this hazard.

Chairman Bresland told the subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, “I believe the urgency of a new combustible dust standard is greater than ever. A new standard, combined with enforcement and education, will save workers' lives.”

The chairman noted the CSB's 2006 Combustible Dust Study identified 281 dust fires and explosions in the U.S. between 1980 and 2005, killing 119 and injuring 718 workers. These included major dust explosion accidents in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Indiana in 2003, killing a total of 14 workers.

Chairman Bresland said that since the study was released, media reports have indicated there have been approximately 82 additional dust fires and explosions.

Bresland noted that good engineering and safety practices to prevent dust explosions have existed for decades, and that current good practices are contained in numerous National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, some of which have been adopted by state and local governments in their fire codes.

“A comprehensive OSHA dust standard is necessary to get businesses, government inspectors, and insurers to identify dust hazards and take appropriate actions to control them. Existing standards do not clearly identify what kinds of dust are hazardous and only address limited aspects of how to control those hazards,” he said.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.