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Congress mulls dust explosion legislation

18 February 2013

On February 14, a group of Democrats in the US House of Representatives introduced legislation to protect workers from combustible dust. The new bill would compel the agency to issue interim protections within a year and set deadlines for finalising a permanent rule.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began the process of issuing regulations to address the hazard in 2009, but its progress has stalled.

“While OSHA has taken some limited steps to protect workers and property from combustible dust explosions, the widely recommended protections necessary to prevent these explosions are caught up in red tape and special interest objections,” Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.

Standards set by the non-profit National Fire Protection Association have existed for decades, but are optional in many areas. Enforcement is often weak or nonexistent. The new bill would require OSHA to base much of its interim standard on these NFPA guidelines. It would mandate more worker training, a regime of cleaning and inspections to prevent dust buildups, and work procedures and equipment design to minimise explosion and fire risk.

The new bill would require OSHA to issue an interim standard within a year, then a proposed rule within another 18 months. The agency would then have to finalise the rule within the next three years.

The rule could affect a large number of businesses, and many industry groups have pushed back, arguing for exemptions or calling the measure unnecessary.

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