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ASSE Submits Comments on Proposed Combustible Dust Legislation, Urges Caution

Posted in on Thu, Aug 14, 2008

Des Plaines, IL (August 14, 2008) —
The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), representing 32,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professionals, provided a statement for the record to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions’ Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety for their hearing held July 29 titled “Dangerous Dust – Is OSHA doing enough to protect workers?” ASSE urged caution in moving ahead to address hazardous dust risks legislatively without developing a deeper understanding of current Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, their enforcement by OSHA, and the approach taken through national consensus standards.

The ASSE statement said, following the February 2008 combustible dust explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, that killed 13 workers and injured 40, it understands the urge to find a legislative solution, as reflected in the “Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act of 2008” (HR 5522) introduced by House Committee on Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller. ASSE supports much in Chairman Miller’s approach, including the bill’s assurance that any new OSHA rule concerning combustible dust will not be less effective than the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) voluntary consensus standards.

Several other issues related to managing combustible dust should also be addressed by the legislation, ASSE said. Most important is the lack of adequate OSHA’s resources to conduct inspections, which contribute to missing dangerous workplaces by OSHA and can result in inspections that are hurried or done without an adequate basis in training. ‘If only 50 of OSHA’s 1029 inspectors had “extensive dust training,’ as Assistant Secretary for OSHA Edwin Foulke, Jr., told 60 Minutes recently, ‘then a bill requiring more standards without the adequate capability to enforce them will not be adequate to address this hazard when workers’ lives are at stake.’

Further, ASSE advised that, due to the complex technical and policy issues involved, Congress should require OSHA to address the issue through negotiated rulemaking, which mirrors the voluntary consensus-building process used by industry and the occupational safety and health community to address combustible dust.

ASSE also expressed concern over setting unrealistic dates for OSHA to issue an interim final standard within 90 days of enactment followed by a final standard within 18 months. The complexities posed by the current statutory obligations under the Administrative Procedure Act, the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Act (SBRFA) and the required regulatory and economic impact analyses lead ASSE to conclude that completion of a final rule within 24 months is a more realistic goal. Reasonably more time would allow Congress working with OSHA and the occupational safety and health community to address what may be the key underlying difficulty with the current regulatory approach to combustible dust. With 17 different OSHA regulations impacting combustible dust risks, it is reasonable to expect difficulties in employers’ efforts to establish a cohesive and effective combustible dust hazard management program in a workplace.

ASSE noted the 17 existing OSHA standards in place to address combustible dust hazards in addition to Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act (General Duty Clause) : 1910.22, housekeeping; 1910.38, emergency action plans; 1910.94, ventilation; 1910.119, process safety management; 1910.132, personal protective equipment; 1910.146, permit-required confined spaces; 1910.157, portable fire extinguishers; 1910.165, employee alarm systems; 1910.176, handling materials – general; 1910.178, powered industrial trucks; 1910.263, bakery equipment; 1910.265, sawmill operations; 1910.269, electric power generation, transmission, and distribution; 1910.272, grain handling facilities; 1910.307, hazardous (classified) locations; and 1910.1200, hazard communication.

While no simple answer to the complexities involved in managing combustible dust exists, a more organized, comprehensive approach by OSHA is needed to facilitate compliance. ASSE’s primary concern is that an answer to the current difficulties involving combustible dust risk management be based on sound science and done in a way that affords all stakeholders due process, without any undue delay.

Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the largest and oldest professional safety organization and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 32,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor and education. Go to for more information and to for a copy of the 2006 U.S. Chemical and Safety Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) on 281 business dust fires and explosions that occurred between 1980 and 2005.

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