Occupational Health & Safety

Lawmakers Reintroduce Combustible Dust Bill

Acting just before the one-year anniversary of the Imperial Sugar mill explosion and fire in Port Wentworth, Ga., U.S. Reps. George Miller, John Barrow, and Lynn Woolsey have reintroduced a bill that would require OSHA to issue a regulation to prevent combustible dust explosions. The Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act, H.R. 849, is similar to a bill put forth by Miller, the California Democrat who chairs the Education and Labor Committee, in the last Congress. That bill passed the House of Representatives in April 2008 but died in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The Port Wentworth blast killed 14 employees and resulted in an OSHA fine of more than $8 million against Imperial Sugar. Miller's committee -- Woolsey, D-Calif., chairs its Workforce Protections Subcommittee, and Barrow, D-Ga., represents the congressional district where the sugar mill is located -- held a hearing last year at which Miller and other lawmakers pressed then-OSHA chief Edwin Foulke Jr. to issue a standard. Foulke said then his agency was already doing enough with stepped-up enforcement and had sufficient standards to address combustible dusts.

"This deadly workplace hazard has been known and understood too long for us to continue to do nothing," Miller said Wednesday. "Yesterday's news that another combustible dust explosion occurred in Wisconsin is further evidence that our nation needs to act. I hope that with today's bill introduction and the arrival of a new administration, our nation will finally help workers and business stop these preventable and, all too often, deadly explosions."

The bill would direct OSHA to issue an interim rule within 90 days and a final rule within 18 months of the bill's enactment. It also would direct OSHA to add combustible dusts to its Hazard Communication standard.

"A year has passed since tragedy struck our community, but so far we haven’t enacted any real change. We've been told over and over that it’s not a question of if this type of accident is going to happen again, but when," Barrow said. "We know what needs to be done. We need to put regulations that work in the workplace. I don't care how long it will take, but I'm going to keep on pushing it until it gets done. Our prayers go out to the folks who are still suffering from their losses and injuries. Meanwhile, we should take this anniversary as a reminder that we have not yet done what we can do to prevent something like this from happening again."

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