It’s Not Just a Housekeeping Issue
- West Pharmaceutical Services rubber-manufacturing plant in Kinston, North Carolina – Six deaths and 38 injuries
- CTA Acoustics automotive insulation manufacturing plant in Corbin, Kentucky – Seven deaths and over 30 injuries
- Imperial Sugar plant, a sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia – Eleven deaths and many still hospitalized.
What do all these events have in common? Deaths, disaster and dust. In late 2007 OSHA announced a NEP (National Emphasis Program) to address the dangers of handling combustible dust. Any combustible material (and some materials normally considered noncombustible) can burn rapidly when in a finely divided form. If such a dust is suspended in air in the right concentration, it can become explosive. The force from such an explosion can cause employee deaths, injuries, and destruction of entire buildings. A U.S. Chemical Safety Board study of dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 identified 281 incidents that killed 119 employees and injured 718, including seven recent incidents that caused extensive facility damage and significant community economic impact.
Materials that may form combustible dust include metals (such as aluminum and magnesium), wood, coal, plastics, biosolids, sugar, paper, soap, dried blood, and certain textiles. In many accidents, employers and employees were unaware that a hazard even existed.
OSHA has directed their regional offices to conduct inspections of general industry facilities that may have a potential for dust. In the NEP instruction, compliance officers are told that an immediate cleaning is warranted whenever a dust layer of 1/32 inch thickness accumulates over a surface area of at least 5% of the floor area of the facility or any given room.
It is imperative that companies determine the combustibility of any dusts that are a product or byproduct of their operations. Relying on Material Safety Data Sheets may not be enough. In a recent investigation involving a review of 140 Material Safety Data Sheets of combustible powders, more than 40% did not have any warning about potential explosions.
For additional support, OSHA has developed a Safety & Health Bulletin, “Combustible Dust in Industry: Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Fires and Explosions“.
Published March 5th, 2008