House Labor Committee Passes Combustible Dust Bill

The congressional committee that heard testimony recently by OSHA chief Edwin Foulke Jr. about his agency's approach to combustible dust explosions passed a bill by voice vote today that would force him to issue a standard addressing them. Foulke told members of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee that OSHA's National Emphasis Program on combustible dust hazards is an effective way to target enforcement, and he said the agency has a dozen standards addressing combustible dust. But other witnesses disagreed, including a member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, William Wright, who testified March 12, "Absent a comprehensive OSHA standard for combustible dust, no one can be confident that dust hazards will be cited and corrected prior to the occurrence of additional accidents."

The bill passed by voice vote is The Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act, H.R. 5522, which was introduced by U.S. Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., the committee's chairman, and John Barrow, D-Ga., after the Feb. 7 Imperial Sugar mill explosion in Port Wentworth, Ga. "We owe it to the families of the workers who have needlessly lost their lives to pass this legislation," Miller said today. "It's unfortunate that OSHA didn't heed warnings from 2006 about the dangers of combustible dusts, but it's downright stunning that OSHA still has no sense of urgency in dealing with these deadly hazards, even after the Imperial Sugar tragedy. Unlike OSHA, this Congress is not complacent about the safety of American workers."

"This is an important step toward getting this bill signed into law. I applaud Chairman Miller for making this a priority for the Education and Labor Committee, and I hope that we'll see it on the House floor real soon," Barrow said. "We owe it to the victims of the Imperial Sugar tragedy -- and to all the other victims before that -- to do what we can to prevent that sort of thing from ever happening again."

A 13th victim of the Port Wentworth explosion died March 14. Three of the injured were discharged today and yesterday from the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital (www.josephmstillburncenter.com/) in Augusta, with five still hospitalized there, according to the center's latest updates. Family members, physical therapists, and the center's medical director, Dr. Fred Mullins, will have a press conference next Tuesday morning to discuss their progress.

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