Pellet Mill Busted for Combustible Dust, Other Hazards

OSHA has cited Geneva Wood Fuels LLC for six alleged serious violations of workplace safety standards following an August 2009 explosion at its wood pellet manufacturing plant in Strong, Maine. Inspectors from the agency's Augusta Area Office found that the plant's employees were exposed to potential dust explosions and fires stemming from deficiencies in the construction, design, or location of the plant's wood pellet processing system; the use of an unapproved spark-producing shop vacuum in a Class II, Division 2 location; and not training employees on specific work procedures to protect themselves from the explosive properties of wood dust.

The inspection at the plant also found unapproved lifting devices, missing safety signs, and missing guardrails. All told, the six serious citations are accompanied by $27,000 in proposed fines. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

"Combustible dust is a real and potentially deadly presence in many types of workplaces," said William Coffin, OSHA's area director for Maine. "Employers should not assume this hazard is minor or non-existent. Addressing it requires ongoing attention and effort, but proper precautions can prevent or minimize the possibility of a devastating explosion or fire."

Combustible dusts, including wood dust, are fine particles that present a potentially catastrophic explosion hazard when suspended in the air in certain conditions. According to OSHA, since 1980 more than 130 workers have been killed and 780 injured in combustible dust explosions in a variety of industries across the nation. The agency said it is working to develop a combustible dust standard. Detailed information on combustible dust hazards, recommended safeguards and OSHA's response to the hazard is available online at www.osha.gov/dsg/combustibledust/index.html.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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