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Good housekeeping will save lives

01 March 2009

It’s been a year since a catastrophic dust explosion at the Imperial Sugar Refinery at Port Wentworth, Georgia killed 4 workers and devastated the plant. The incident last February highlighted the extreme danger associated with poor housekeeping especially where quantities of dust are present. Leaving dust lying around can so easily turn to disaster when a minor explosion can disturb dust residues to create an airborne cloud, which then auto-ignites to produce a catastrophic incident.

Good housekeeping will save lives
Good housekeeping will save lives

Marking the first anniversary of the Imperial Sugar explosion, US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) chairman John Bresland released a video safety message asking federal regulators and businesses to increase efforts to prevent combustible dust fires and explosions. The video, which has been released on YouTube, offers a safety message that urges more government action and increased vigilance from industry to prevent catastrophic dust explosions in future.

In the safety message, Bresland noted that of eight catastrophic industrial dust explosions since 1995, all but one occurred during cold weather and four of these incidents occurred during the month of February.
Just last month, a coal dust explosion, near Milwaukee, emphasised the danger from such accidents, which can result severe injuries and damage. Several contract workers suffered burn injuries from this explosion, which involved a coal dust collection system at a power plant in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
In his message, Bresland called on all of industry to take this hazard seriously - during the winter months and throughout the year.

He also urged the incoming leadership at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to act upon CSB's recommendations from 2006 to develop a comprehensive regulatory standard for combustible dust. And this good advice can be simply transfered to Europe where in many dust laden environments, a catastrophe is just waiting to happen.

In November 2006, CSB completed a major study of combustible dust hazards, identifying 281 fires and explosions in the USA that killed 119 workers and injured 718 others. The Board is now urging OSHA to develop a comprehensive regulatory standard designed to prevent dust explosions. OSHA has not issued such a standard but has developed a program to increase enforcement of existing regulatory provisions.
Work is well advanced on revised European standards defining the design of equipment destined for use in dust hazard zones. Regulators in the UK and in mainland Europe should heed the advice and experiences from the American hazardous area industries.

In Senate testimony last July, Bresland suggested that the Imperial Sugar explosion as well as other major dust explosions in the US could 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 programmes - should form the basis of a new regulatory standard for industrial workplaces everywhere.

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

The safety video is well worth a viewing and can be found on the CSB's safety message channel at The text can be also read on, an agency blog site. Viewers who can not access YouTube can download the video files for all safety messages and safety videos from a page within the Video Room on the CSB website.

We at HazardEx can only commend the new video for its sound advice, which if adopted will certainly save lives in the future.

Paul Gay, Editor

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