OSHA has scheduled two informal stakeholder meetings to solicit comments and suggestions on combustible dust hazards in the workplace. OSHA will use comments from these meetings in developing a proposed standard for combustible dust. The meetings are scheduled for Feb. 17, 2010, 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., at the Marriott Perimeter Center, 246 Perimeter Center Parkway, Atlanta, Ga., 30346.

Combustible dust will be another high-profile standards-setting story in 2010. It is hard to ignore the statistics: Since 1980, more than 130 workers have been killed and more than 780 injured in combustible dust explosions. A Feb. 7, 2008, explosion at an Imperial Sugar Co. plant in Port Wentworth, Ga., killed 14 people and resulted in OSHA issuing nearly $8.8 million in penalties.

OSHA is holding the stakeholder meeting in Atlanta to make it easy for victims’ families and others with relevant information about this deadly incident to attend.

Combustible dust rulemaking will be a rocky road. The American Industrial Hygiene Association has weighed in:

“It remains to be seen if a single combustible dust standard can be an effective way to protect workers from combustible dust explosions in all industries. AIHA recommends the agency consider all comments from the various industries impacted by combustible dust to be certain that a single combustible dust standard is workable in all industries. There may be considerable concerns that a single-industry standard will not be effective in controlling combustible dust explosions.”

An American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) representative testified during an OSHA hearing on a proposed combustible dust standard that ASSE can support a new standard, but only one that is no less effective than the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) voluntary consensus standards addressing combustible dust.

ASSE federal representative Adele Abrams said, “ASSE can support a new combustible dust standard but only one that is no less effective than the NFPA’s voluntary consensus standard NFPA 654: Standard on Prevention of Fire and dust Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids.

Abrams went on to note that most importantly, the NFPA dust explosion standards are categorized according to industry.

“We do not see how a single standard or a standard that seeks to provide an overarching framework to the existing standards can work better than what has already been accomplished in the NFPA standards,” Abrams said. “Also, an industry-specific approach is more consistent with international approaches such as the European Union’s ATEX guidelines. This is an important consideration as OSHA moves towards global harmonization of hazard communications and other safety and health management systems.

“OSHA plays an important role in helping advance improved harmonization with international standards that help this nation’s employers compete better in global marketplaces, and this role cannot be overlooked,” she said.