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New US rules to prevent dust explosions relegated to long term

07 February 2012

New safety rules will not be enacted in the near future despite the iron dust-fuelled explosions last year at a Tennessee metal powder plant which resulted in five deaths. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is developing rules that would require companies to improve control over combustible dust hazards.

A CSB reconstruction of an iron dust explosion at the plant
A CSB reconstruction of an iron dust explosion at the plant

The planned introduction date was recently pushed back, despite pleas from the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) for them to be fast tracked.  

The CSB investigated the fatal explosions at Hoeganaes Corp., an affiliate of UK-based conglomerate GKN located near Nashville, and concluded far greater regulation in this area was required.

It has been studying the hazards of combustible dust since a series of deadly fires and explosions in 2003. “We really don’t know why OSHA is doing this,” said CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso. “We do know that workers keep dying.”

The Hoeganaes metal powders plant in Tennessee, where fireballs fueled by iron dust contributed to five deaths in 2011
The Hoeganaes metal powders plant in Tennessee, where fireballs fueled by iron dust contributed to five deaths in 2011

A 2006 study by the board found at least 281 dust explosions and fires in the U.S. between 1980 and 2005. They killed 119 workers and injured 718. According to more recent figures, there has been no change in the frequency of deaths and injuries from dust accidents, despite more inspections and an OSHA education program.

The board recommended that OSHA develop regulations for controlling dust hazards as part of its 2006 report, more than a year before Imperial Sugar. OSHA did not begin the process until 2009 and the agency has offered no date for when it might be completed.

Two weeks ago, OSHA published its twice-yearly regulatory agenda. A note about combustible dust regulations reads “next action undetermined.”


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