Bid to Force OSHA's Hand on Combustible Dust Starts Tomorrow

OSHA's Ed Foulke Jr. is the top witness listed for a 10:30 a.m. EDT hearing tomorrow on H.R. 5522, The Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act of 2008, before the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee. Its chairman, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced the bill March 4 with Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., whose District 12 includes Savannah and Port Wentworth, where the Imperial Sugar explosion on Feb. 7 occurred. That prompted their bill.

It would require OSHA to issue interim and final dust regulations and also to add combustible dust as a physical hazard listed in the Hazard Communication standard at 29 CFR 1910.1200(c). Barrow, a second-term congressman, serves on the House Agriculture Committee but not on Miller's committee. The Imperial Sugar explosion has killed a total of 12 workers, with about 60 others hurt and some still being treated for burn injuries.

Besides Foulke, scheduled witnesses include NFPA Senior Chemical Engineer Amy Spencer; Bill Wright, interim chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB); and Tammy Miser, described as a sister of a victim of the Oct. 29, 2003, aluminum dust explosion at the Hayes Lemmerz International-Huntington, Inc. aluminum wheel plant in Huntington, Ind., that killed one worker and injured six others, one critically. CSB's October 2005 report on that blast concluded dust hazards were not identified or addressed, employees were inadequately trained, and the dust collector system in use did not follow NFPA guidelines.

"The tragedy at Imperial Sugar shows that the threat of dust explosions is very real at industrial work sites across America and needs to be addressed immediately," Miller in a news release when the bill was introduced. "It's unfortunate that it takes the Congress of the United States to tell OSHA how to do its job. The agency has known about these dangers for a long time and should have acted years ago to prevent explosions like this one. Workers cannot be asked to wait any longer for these basic protections."

"The explosion at Imperial Sugar is a tragedy that we never want to see repeated in the 12th District, or anywhere else in the country," said Barrow. "We owe it to the victims and their families to do everything we can to prevent this kind of disaster from ever happening again."

The bill would direct OSHA to issue an interim final standard within 90 days after the bill's enactment into law, with requirements for hazard assessment, training, explosion protection, and other measures included in the standard. A permanent standard would be required within 18 months of enactment.

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