The Cost of Delay: Explosive Dust

July 6, 2011 - 7:46pm

A recent fatal explosion at a Gallatin, Tennessee metals plant fueled by high concentrations of industrial dust highlights the need for action to protect American workers. Unfortunately, the workplace rules that would have prevented the tragedy still don’t exist . 

The cost of delay is real to the families of workers killed or injured in industrial accidents involving combustible dust.  According to the Tennessean, there have been 34 dust-related accidents resulting in 23 deaths and 134 injuries since OSHA began looking seriously at the dangers in 2005.

A review of over 200 dust explosion incidents by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) resulted in their November 2006 call for a “national regulatory standard for combustible dust hazards” in the United States. 

Their call to action hasn’t led to urgent action – or any action – yet. The complex process to establish a new rule and industry opposition has prevented government action and has cost lives.  OSHA formally started the rule making process to address combustible dust in 2009.  Industry opposes the rules complaining that an industry wide standard would impose “regulatory burdens” on many firms. 

They’ve said it before.   In 1987, OSHA created a standard to address dust explosions in grain elevators.  Industry fought it saying it would hurt the industry, that one-size-fits –all regulations wouldn’t work and that the problem was overstated.

The results speak for themselves.  OSHA’s conducted a “lookback” study and found that the standard has decreased fatalities by 70%.  The analysis found that the changes didn’t have negative impact on large or small grain companies. 

Industry, in turned out, was crying wolf.   Now, over twenty years later, The National Grain and Feed Association that had opposed the grain elevator standards now says they like and support the regulations.  Safer workplaces, fewer fatalities, new processes that increase productivity  - they seem like no-brainers that everyone should support.   Hopefully industry today will get out of the way of progress and save lives in the process.

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