Unions Call on OSHA to Issue Emergency Combustible Dust Standard

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) by issue a rule to address combustible dust explosion hazards.

Additional labor organizations representing workers at risk are also supporting the petition, which was filed in reaction to a Feb. 7 explosion at a sugar refinery in Georgia. The explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant resulted in the deaths of nine workers. Scores of workers were also injured in the blast, and one worker is still missing. Reports indicate that combustible dust may be implicated in this explosion, as has been the case in previous food plant explosions, union officials said.

The petition calls for an Emergency Temporary Standard, which requires immediate controls instituted by employers where combustible dust hazards exist. The petition also calls upon OSHA to put a new permanent standard in place for control of combustible dust hazards in general industry; inspect sugar processing plants; and implement a Special Emphasis Program on combustible dust hazards in a wide range of industries where combustible dust hazards exist.

The UFCW represents hundreds of workers in sugar plants around the country, including the Domino Sugar plant in Baltimore, Md. UFCW members at the Domino plant narrowly escaped harm last November after a combustible dust explosion rocked the facility. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents nearly 500 members who are employed at eight sugar processing facilities throughout the United States.

In 2006, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards following three worksite dust explosions that killed 14 workers in 2003. The CSB report noted that a quarter of the explosions between 1980 and 2005 occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar plants.

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