Safety group calls for further action on combustible dust

The dust can be dangerous for many industries, including food, textile, metal, pesticides and coal.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), which represents more than 10,000 health and safety professionals, sent a letter on Monday to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), ranking member on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, in support of a bill he introduced in February to speed up OSHA rule-making on the dust.

No specific OSHA standard addresses all workplace combustible dust. Miller's bill would require OSHA to quickly issue an interim regulation requiring specific inspection and evaluation of workplace combustible dust, as well as safety training, and propose a final rule within 18 months.

"While OSHA has taken some limited steps to protect workers and property from combustible dust explosions, the widely recommended protections necessary to prevent these explosions are caught up in red tape and special interest objections,” said Miller in a statement at the time

OSHA began work on a rule to regulate the dust in 2009, but has not yet completed the process. Miller estimated that without legislation it would take four more years to put in place final rules.

The association's letter, signed by AIHA President Allan Fleeger, calls for an additional inspection and maintenance requirement and suggests extending the 18-month time frame the bill calls for to propose a final standard.

Fleeger writes that current OSHA policy "inadequately addresses dust explosion hazards and fails to ensure safe work practices and guidance documents are included" in reported safety data. "Because of this, AIHA believes there is an urgent need for further action from the agency to address this issue."

In 2006, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent agency, issued a report finding that combustible dust led to 119 deaths and 718 injuries in the period from 1980 to 2005, and concluded that "combustible dust explosions are a serious hazard in American industry."

In 2008, an explosion of sugar dust at a refinery in Georgia killed 14 employees and brought attention to the hazards of combustible dust. Shortly afterwards, the House passed a bill to regulate combustible dust with a bipartisan vote, but it died in the Senate.

Miller's office blames Republicans for the lack of activity on the current bill. "It's up to Republicans to decide whether they want to move on it," said Aaron Albright, the communications director for Democrats on the committee. "Since we're in the minority we don't make that decision."