OSHA Sweeping Up on Combustible Dust Citations

Over the last 16 months, OSHA compliance officers have conducted 813 inspections at companies where employees may be exposed to potential combustible dust hazards. In these visits, the agency has identified 3,662 violations. Housekeeping, hazard communication, personal protective equipment, electrical, and general duty clause violations are cited most frequently as a result of these inspections. The visits are part of the agency's ongoing National Emphasis Program (NEP) it says is designed to reduce workers' exposure to combustible dust hazards.

In four southeastern states alone--Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi--the agency has made more than 100 visits to targeted facilities. The result of those inspections has been 667 citations for workplace safety and health violations, with almost 84 percent categorized as willful, serious, repeat, or failure to abate. In Georgia, for example, OSHA has conducted 32 visits to the likely places during the 16-month period and issued 311 citations, 90 percent of which the agency classified as willful, serious, repeat, or failure to abate.

"Any company that has combustible dust, or thinks that it may have combustible dust, needs to intensify housekeeping, review hot work processes, evaluate electrical equipment for possible Class II locations, prohibit smoking or flames in dust laden areas, ensure that relief venting on dust collection systems releases the dust to a safe location, and develop and/or review an emergency action plan," says OSHA Regional Administrator Cindy Coe.

Dust fires and explosions can pose significant dangers in the workplace and can occur when five different factors are present. The five factors are oxygen, an ignition source (heat, an electrical spark or a spark from metal machinery), fuel (dust), dispersion of the dust, and confinement of the dust. These five factors are referred to as the "Dust Explosion Pentagon." If any one of these factors is removed or is missing, an explosion cannot occur, OSHA notes.

Industries affected by the emphasis program include: agriculture; chemical; textile; forest products; furniture products; wastewater treatment; metal processing; paper processing; pharmaceutical; and metal, paper, and plastic recycling.

OSHA says it develops National Emphasis Programs to focus on major health and safety hazards that are recognized as nationally significant. These programs are designed to provide guidance to the OSHA field offices for planning and conducting inspections consistently across the nation. Additional information regarding this initiative is available from the OSHA regional office located at 61 Forsyth St. S.W., Atlanta, GA 30303; telephone 404-562-2300.

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