Parts of Dust Standard Likely to Be Retroactive

The OSHA Combustible Dust Team's web chat with more than 400 stakeholders also gave some idea of the timetable for the combustible dust standard that will be developed.

OSHA's first virtual stakeholder meeting on June 28 was a hit, understandably, because it focused on a topic that will soon be addressed in an OSHA rulemaking: combustible dust. More than 400 people offered comments, OSHA says, and the agency has posted the archived chat online so others can read it.

The OSHA Combustible Dust Team responded to many of the comments as they came in, giving some idea of the dust standard's timetable -- a small business impact panel will evaluate it in April 2011 -- as well as recognition of NFPA standards, training requirements, retroactivity of the standard, and other issues. The team mentioned the Labor Department's Work in Progress blog and encouraged chat participants to read materials and offer comments there.

Several commenters said employee training/involvement is essential. Some predicted the standard will be challenging for small businesses; comments asserted certain mineral dusts are not explosive and in fact are useful for inerting combustible dusts, agricultural dusts should not be covered, and OSHA must adequately train its enforcement personnel so they can fairly evaluate facilities' dusts and their control methods. One commenter suggested that the standard contain a decision tree for evaluating and controlling dust hazards at a site, and another recommended that the standard use an "action level" and "PEL limit" approach to keep compliance costs down.

One commenter suggested that OSHA create a national database for dust testing to lower facilities' testing costs.

"We anticipate that some aspects of the new rule will be retroactive. However, at this time, we do not know what those requirements will be, or to what extent," the team said in one posted response. The team also said NFPA standards "may play a role in the proposed combustible dust standard. OSHA understands that many facilities are designed to these standards and will take account of that in the rule making." The team also said the standard probably will include a non-mandatory explanatory appendix.

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