Government rulemakingA rule to establish standards for combustible dust that’s been in the works since 2009 is scheduled to move closer to completion in 2014, with a proposed draft regulation due this spring.

Worker safety advocates and agencies like the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) have expressed frustration over OSHA’s failure to make faster progress in making a combustible dust regulatory change.

Some history

After investigating a series of fatal explosions and fires and finding that companies ignored the hazard or failed to take actions to mitigate the danger, the CSB in 2006 recommended a standard based on existing National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) dust explosion standards. 

A 2008 explosion of combustible sugar dust at the Imperial Sugar Company in Georgia that killed 14 workers, three iron dust-related flash fires at the Hoeganaes Corporation facility in Gallatin, Tennessee that killed five workers prompted additional calls for action. The CSB urged OSHA to issue a proposed rule within one year, and recommended the inclusion of metal dusts new standard.

A known, insidious hazard

“The Board has called on OSHA a number of times over the past several years to act on this known, insidious hazard that continues to claim the lives of workers and cause enormous damage and loss of jobs,” said CSB Chairperson Moure-Eraso. “It’s critical that OSHA address the recommendations.”    

Combustible dust is blamed for a large number of worker fatalities and injuries, and is a hazard in industries ranging from manufacturing, food processing, textiles, pesticides and coal.

OSHA has estimated the annual cost of implementing the rule at more than $100 million, which is expected to draw opposition from business groups.

OSHA regulatory calendar update on the combustible dust standard

OSHA commenced rulemaking to develop a combustible dust standard for general industry several years ago.

 The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) completed a study of combustible dust hazards in late 2006, which identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers and injured another 718. Based on these findings, the CSB recommended the agency pursue a rulemaking on this issue.

OSHA has previously addressed aspects of this risk. For example, on July 31, 2005, OSHA published the Safety and Health Information Bulletin, "Combustible Dust in Industry: Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Fire and Explosions."

Additionally, OSHA implemented a Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP) March 11, 2008, launched a new webpage, and issued several other guidance documents. However, the agency does not have a comprehensive standard that addresses combustible dust hazards. OSHA will use the information gathered from the NEP to assist in the development of this rule. OSHA published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking October 21, 2009.

In 2010, two stakeholder meetings were held to gather input on the rule. A webchat for combustible dust was held by OSHA on June 28, 2010 and an expert forum was convened by the agency  on May 13, 2011 Small business feasibility assessments, required of all economically significant standards such as the combustible dust rule, were set to begin in April, 2014.

The next step would be for OSHA to publish a formal proposed standard for combustible dust. The agency plans to do so in 2014.