Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nation Moves to End Dust Explosions

A nationwide movement has galvanized in putting an end to combustible dust explosions and fires that have killed and injured countless number of workers on a continual basis. The recent highly publicized combustible dust explosion that caused death and destruction at the Dixie Crystal sugar refinery on the serene banks of the Savannah River has brought forth an awareness and social awakening not experienced since dozens of workers and federal grain inspectors were killed in grain-silo explosions back in 1977. From that point on and after a decade of numerous and seemingly unending studies, hearings, and notice of proposed rule makings the OSHA grain handling facilities standard was incorporated into the workplace health and safety regulations in 1988.

Dust Explosions Revisited

Hopefully it won't take a decade for a general industry combustible dust standard to be promulgated into OSHA workplace health and safety regulations. Especially while preventable dust explosions and fires are continuing nationwide on a weekly basis in close comparison to the daily earthquake tremors across the globe. It's only a major earthquake with resulting fatalities and injuries that gains public attention. Quite analogous to the Dixie Crystal incident, while dozens of other smaller earthquake tremors and combustible dust fires and explosions occur unnoticed on a local basis.

The National Academy of Sciences, in the early 1980's, did recommend after numerous preventable grain-silo explosions that a general industry comprehensive combustible dust standard be implemented in conjunction with the grain standard. That didn't happen since during that period of the political landscape, the Reagan administration issued Executive Order 12291, which created a Regulatory Relief program, diminishing the power of OSHA at the expense of the worker to the benefit of corporate financial management .

It's All About Attitude

This political attitude had future repercussions and from the period spanning 1980-2005, a plethora of 281 combustible dust explosions occurred across the nation killing 119 workers and injuring 781. It wasn't until 2003, when 3 catastrophic explosions occurred killing 14 workers that the government went back to the drawing board to investigate and decide whether combustible dust explosions was a hazard that needed regualtion.

Through the superb investigative efforts of an independent federal agency, the Chemical Safety Board, completed a Combustible Dust Hazard Study in November 2006 and submitted it's findings to the Department of Labor. In deja vu form just as the National Academy of Sciences had recommended nearly three decades earlier, the CSB recommended that a general industry comprehensive dust standard be implemented in the OSHA regulations in addition to five other preventive measures .

Grassroots Movement

In addition to independent governmental agency involvement in the effort to implement a general industry combustible dust standard, grassroots community movements have also developed. For instance, Tammy Miser, whose brother, Shawn Boone, died in the 2003 Hayes-Lemmers Huntington combustible dust explosion co-founded United Support & Memorial for Workplace Fatalities .

This dedicated group provides support to surviving family members, whose loved ones have died in combustible dust explosions and other workplace accidents. Fatalities in the workforce occur on the average of fifteen/day from numerous causes and most of these go unnoticed. Additionally, Tammy's blog, "Weekly Toll," provides resourceful insight into the daily worker fatalities in conjunction with bringing a human face and name to the endless black and white statistics.

A Voice of Millions

A call for change in the current structure of inadequate workplace safety and health regulation's is also heard from millions of union workers where the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters recently filed a petition to OSHA demanding an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from combustible dust explosions. Organizations such as the Change to Win , American Rights at Work, and the International Labor Communication Association have also provided productive input through their membership and web sites in educating members on the hazards of combustible dusts in addition to there tireless lobbying efforts in Congress.

Legislative Action

But this is not enough in instituting change, especially since the union workforce is only 12 percent of the nation's total workforce of over 153 million. Unfortunately issues of workplace safety are polarized across party lines, where one group demands a comprehensive combustible dust standard and the other party desires less costly voluntary compliance. Issues of cost-benefit analysis questioning the benefits to society in the possible implementation of a comprehensive combustible dust standard are now debated.

Even more dialog arises when questions of whether measured criteria both quantitatively or qualitatively of preventing fatalities and injuries will outweigh the costs of regulation to industry. After the implementation of the grain facility standard back in 1987, no one noticed any agricultural business's shutting down. It's a moot point that many legislators across party lines suggest and invoke fear, that industry will move offshore when a dust standard is implemented.

Through the tireless efforts of Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and his congressional peers, an acting as the Chairman of the House Committee of Education and Labor, he called for a full committee hearing on March 12, 2008 concerning impending legislation to implement an OSHA comprehensive combustible standard where OSHA through the direction of the Department of Labor have failed to act.

Fractious Rebuttal

It's a shame that it takes an act of Congress like an Act of War to obtain a solution in the future prevention of combustible dust explosions, which not only causes preventable death, destruction, and injuries but adversely effects the economic vitality of the economy with lost jobs and exponential harm to the livelihood of all the vender's and service providers that support the damaged facilities.

Hopefully, Edwin Foulke, an attorney by trade and political appointee as the director of OSHA will get the message and instead of fractiously opposing a general comprehensive combustible dust standard will provide leadership and insight into instituting long sought after closure for the families who lost their loved ones over the past quarter century in combustible dust explosions. How many more preventable combustible dust fires and explosions before the next major tremor occurs?

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