Monday, April 7, 2008

Mark-up of H.R. 5522, Combustible Dust Legislation

The House Education and Labor Committee will vote Wednesday, 9 April on the Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act (H.R. 5522). Earlier on 12 March a hearing was held concerning pending legislation in response to the recent Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion in Georgia and OSHA's failure to act on comprehensive a combustible dust standard in general industry as recommended by the Chemical Safety Board.

Since the February 7 Imperial Sugar refinery explosion there has been 29 combustible dust fires and explosions in general industries throughout the United States, which doesn't include grain handling facilities. Facilities which handle grain must comply with the OSHA grain handling combustible dust standard that was implemented in 1988. Prior to the OSHA grain standard there were numerous combustible dust fires and explosions resulting in preventable fatalities and injuries. Over the past two months there has been nine combustible dust fires and explosions at grain facilities, which includes three explosions.

National Fire Protection Association
For nearly a century the National Fire Protection Association has formulated fire codes in the protection of property and personnel. Several of these fire codes deal with metal, food, wood, and agricultural combustible dusts. In contrast, the majority of state fire marshals have not implemented these combustible dust fire codes in their inspection protocol and thats where the main problem is concerning the continual occurrence of preventable and predictable combustible dust fires and explosions.

The Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act (H.R. 5522) will require that the National Fire Protection Association's Standard for the Prevention of Fire and Dust Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing, and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids-2006 (NFPA 654) and Standard for Combustible Metals-2006 (NFPA 484) be adhered to by all states whether or not such protection is already incorporated in state fire codes.

National Emphasis Program

OSHA has instituted a voluntary National Emphasis Program for combustible dusts since October 2007 that has not offered the protection in the prevention of future incidents. For example, the program guidelines direct OSHA inspectors to obtain dusts samples for analysis at the OSHA Salt Lake Testing facility in the determination of the ignition sensitivity and explosion severity of dusts generated at a facility. This is a backward approach since thousands of manufacturing plants are already generating combustible dusts in their processes and waiting for a inspector to arrive is a recipe for disaster as can be seen in the Imperial Sugar refinery resulting in 13 fatalities.

Opposing Passage of Bill
Opponents of the Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act (H.R. 5522) feel that a congressional mandate in preventable combustible dust explosions and fires is to rapid of an approach and more input needs to be addressed between regulators, industry, state fire marshals, trade associations, and labor organizations. Additionally, opponents of the pending bill believe that a "one size fits all" covering combustible dusts across a wide spectrum of industries will lead to problems in the interpretation of an OSHA comprehensive combustible dust regulation.

The national consciousness of preventable combustible dust explosions and fires have yet to be aroused in between the presidential primaries and only a small minority of stakeholders vocally desire the passage of a combustible dust bill. With House committee members politically divided between the interests of labor and industry, movement of the bill to the house floor will be an uphill battle for the proponents.

Text of Bill

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