Thursday, May 29, 2008

Where: Combustible Dust Explosions/Fires?

Since the February 7, 2008 Imperial Sugar Refinery combustible dust explosion, over 52 reported combustible dust related explosions and fires have occurred in the United States. The majority of incidents are in rural areas where media exposure is limited and a Google Internet search does not provide an accurate number of the actual occurrences in manufacturing facilities.

Overall Picture
A general picture of incidents in the United States is beginning to develop through research conducted by the Combustible Dust Policy Institute in Santa Fe, Texas, utilizing Google Alerts and RSS feeds. When news reports do not include information whether or not an incident is combustible dust related, then a follow-up telephone call acquiring additional information from the local fire investigator or fire chief is conducted to ensure accuracy of the reporting methodology. Once confirmation is achieved then the incident's geographical location is placed on the Google Combustible Dust Incident Map.

Over 75% of the 52 combustible dust explosions and fires have occurred east of the Mississippi. Further distilling the data, along the Atlantic Seaboard states, stretched from Florida to Maine, over 50% of the incidents have happened . Additionally, in the geographical triangle bordered between the Great Lakes, Appalachian Mountains, and the Mississippi River over 30% of the incidents are taking place.

Geographical Hot Spots
Locating geographical hot spots where combustible dust incidents are occurring more frequently will allow all stakeholders to develop proactive measures in preventing future occurrences and at the same time not misdirecting resources where incidents are not happening. Many states do not have a large manufacturing sector that handle combustible particulate solids, so combustible dust fires and explosions are minuscule if not nonexistent problem in these geographical areas.

Time and Space
It's to early to ascertain whether the OSHA Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP) has any impact on minimizing combustible dust explosions and fires. Currently there is no reduction in combustible dust explosions and fires and at the present rate, an event is taking place nearly every other day somewhere in the United States. Since the Imperial Sugar Refinery catastrophe, injuries have been minimal and it's only a matter of time, space, and luck running out before more fatalities happen.

Voluntary NEP
Much fanfare and hoopla has surrounded the OSHA Combustible Dust NEP, which has really turned into a Trojan horse sort of placebo. The problem is exacerbated at the state level where 22 States have there own OSHA program and not required to have a Combustible Dust NEP, which is voluntary. For example, North Carolina over the past four months is the leading state with six reported combustible dust explosions and fires and at the same time does not have a combustible dust NEP since it has it's own State OSHA program and not federal. Several other State OSHA programs without the voluntary combustible dust NEP's also lead in combustible dust incidents.

The complex issue of combustible dust explosions and fires is more of a regional and geographical problem rather than a national one. It's only when a catastrophic incident occurs with mass fatalities and injuries that a national consciousness arises but this should not be confused with the heart of the problem and that is the geographic nature of manufacturing facilities in the United States. Limited financial resources in the current economy can best be allocated in the specific hot spots and manufacturing sub-sectors where incidents are happening.

A geographical aspect of the complex combustible dust issue needs to be addressed in the upcoming Senate hearing where the combustible dust bill will be voted on prior to arrival on the President's desk. A combustible dust workplace standard definitely needs to be implemented very soon, yet in an intelligent manner that directs regulatory resources efficiently.


Anonymous said...

"The heart of the problem the geographic nature of manufacturing facilities in the United States"?

State and regulatory agencies can only do so much. It is the responsibility and duty of the employer to create and maintain a safe work environment. The dust in the Imperial Sugar plant that blew up in Feb. was knee deep in places. And the employees hadn't had a fire drill in at least a decade. I'll tell you what needs to happen. How about somebody go to jail! You can't tell me that the Imperial Sugar execs with their Harvard degrees and million dollar pay packages didn't know about sugar dust. The knew and they considered it a risk they were willing to take.

John Astad said...

"State and regulatory agencies can only do so much."

Exactly, thats the point I was trying to bring across is that there is only a limited amount of inspectors and financial resources in devoting valuable time conducting facility comdustx inspections. The majority of workplace accidents are occurring in other areas like the construction industry.

Regarding Imperial Sugar and it hasn't been mentioned at all in the national media. There was a dust explosion and injury at their Sugarland, Texas refinery in August 1998.

The Sugarland Refinery was sold to Hormel Foods in December 2002. The corporate office is still located in Sugarland. The company has been aware of the risk for over a decade.

Houston Chronicle Source:

Kane said...

"Currently there is no reduction in combustible dust explosions and fires and at the present rate, an event is taking place nearly every other day somewhere in the United States."

The 30,000 letters seemed to do more than anything to make people at least look.

ATEX A FACT said...

I think the key for reduction is the formation and information of employees, estarting for managers to down. we have to increase our work to trainnig people, if not dust explosion will continuing,...
Those blogs are good place.


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