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Preventing catastrophic dust explosions

05 February 2009

Marking the first anniversary of the Imperial Sugar explosion that killed 14 workers in February 2008, CSB Chairman John Bresland released a video safety message asking federal regulators and businesses to increase efforts to prevent combustible dust fires and explosions.

Preventing catastrophic dust explosions
Preventing catastrophic dust explosions

The safety message can be viewed on the CSB's safety message channel,, and the text can be also read on, an agency blog site.

In the safety message, Chairman Bresland noted that of eight catastrophic industrial dust explosions since 1995, all but one occurred during cold weather months. Four disastrous dust explosions occurred during the month of February alone.

“Yesterday's reports of a coal dust explosion near Milwaukee that caused injuries and damage underscore the danger from these accidents,” Bresland said on the release of today's message. Several contract workers suffered burn injuries from an explosion Tuesday morning involving a coal dust collection system at a power plant in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

“I call on all of industry to take this hazard seriously - during the winter months and throughout the year,' Mr. Bresland said in the video. 'And I urge the incoming leadership at OSHA to act upon the CSB's recommendations from 2006 to develop a comprehensive regulatory standard for combustible dust.”
The CSB completed a major study of combustible dust hazards in November 2006, identifying 281 fires and explosions that killed 119 workers and injured 718 others. The CSB urged the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop a comprehensive regulatory standard designed to prevent dust explosions. OSHA has not issued a standard but has developed a program to increase enforcement of existing regulatory provisions.

On February 7, 2008, a catastrophic dust explosion destroyed the massive packaging plant at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, fatally burning 14 workers and injuring 38 others. In Senate testimony in July 2008, Bresland noted that the Imperial explosion and other major dust explosions would likely have been prevented if the companies had followed existing National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommendations for controlling dust hazards. Those measures - including appropriate equipment and building design, worker training, and rigorous dust-cleaning programs - should form the basis of a new regulatory standard for industrial workplaces, Bresland said.

“Despite the efforts of NFPA, OSHA, the Chemical Safety Board, and many others, serious dust explosions and fires continue to occur,' Mr. Bresland said in the new video. 'As CSB chairman, my commitment is do everything possible to make these tragedies a thing of the past. Stronger, clearer regulations and more robust safety programs in industry will prevent most dust explosions - and save lives.”

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