Preventing Industrial Dust Explosions

Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act 

The Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act would require the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue rules regulating combustible industrial dusts, like sugar dust, that can build up to hazardous levels and explode. In February 2008 the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, exploded, killing 13 workers and severely injuring many more. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has concluded that the explosion was caused by combustible sugar dust.

Workers cannot be asked to wait any longer for these basic protections.

In 2006, following a series of fatal combustible dust explosions,the U.S. Chemical Safety Board conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards.It identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers, injured 718 others, and extensively damaged industrial facilities. The tragedy at Imperial Sugar shows that the threat of dust explosions is very real at industrial worksites across America and needs to be addressed immediately.  In the three years since the February 7, 2008 explosion at Imperial Sugar, there have been 24 combustible dust explosions or fires, causing four deaths and 65 injuries.

Read the full text of the bill

Background Information on Combustible Dust

When dust builds up to dangerous levels in industrial worksites, it can become fuel for fires and explosions. Combustible dust can come from many sources, such as sugar, flour, feed, plastics, wood, rubber, furniture, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dyes, coal, and metals, and therefore poses a risk across a number of different industries throughout the United States.  

To address dust hazards, the bill:

  • Streamlines OSHA’s process for issuing an interim standard and directs OSHA to issue an interim final Combustible Dust standard within a year. The standard would include measures to minimize hazards associated with combustible dust through improved housekeeping, engineering controls, worker training and a written combustible dust safety program, and apply the relevant National Fire Protection Standards that call for dust control. 
  • Directs OSHA to issue a final standard within eighteen months. OSHA would be required to include relevant parts of National Fire Protection Association standards. In addition to items required in the interim standard, the final standard would include requirements for hazard assessment, building design and explosion protection. 
  • The interim standard would remain in effect until the final standard is issued. OSHA would be required to fulfill all administrative rulemaking requirements including full public hearings, feasibility analysis and small business review as part of developing a final standard.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. experienced a series of grain dust explosions that caused a number of deaths. OSHA responded in 1987 by issuing a comprehensive grain dust standard. This standard requires preventive maintenance, worker training, safe operating procedures, emergency planning, and formal dust cleaning programs in grain elevators. According to OSHA's own review in 2003, this standard has cut deaths and injuries from grain dust explosions and fires by 60 percent. The grain industry itself now credits the standard with helping to make the design of grain handling facilities safer.