Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bleak Picture of Plant Shutdowns

Here is an interesting snapshot of recent plant shutdowns in the United States. Many states have a web link that provides a listing of plant closings. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) offers protection to workers by requiring employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs.

Employers are covered by WARN if they have 100 or more employees. A covered employer must give notice if an employment site (or one or more facilities or operating units within an employment site) will be shut down, and the shutdown will result in an employment loss (as defined later) for 50 or more employees during any 30-day period.

In many instances no warning of impending shutdown is provided if the company has less than 100 employees. With all the shutdowns occurring in the manufacturing sector the question arises of how a company can afford fire and explosion equipment in the prevention and mitigation combustible dust incidents.

The current combustible dust bill, HR 5522, Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act that is awaiting a hearing and vote in the Senate will require facilities that generate combustible dust to install fire and explosion prevention/mitigation equipment in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association combustible dust codes.

Congressional leaders that drafted the bill forgot to conduct a cost benefit analysis on the economic burden, which the legislation would impose on the manufacturing sector. In a recent article in the Washington Post (6/29/08), "
5 Myths About the Death Of the American Factory,'' by Gilbert B. Kaplan, the author notes that in 2007, manufacturing jobs dropped below 14 million workers for the first time in over a half a century. This is a very disturbing trend and will only get worse as a barrel of oil approaches the $200 mark very soon.

Will a combustible dust bill also provide economic incentives like it does with the energy, agricultural, and other business sectors?

Plant Shutdowns 2008 Google Map

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

OSHA Combustible Dust Blame Game

Over the past year OSHA has constantly been negatively portrayed in the national headlines concerning workplace safety issues. Several weeks ago CBS 60 Minutes aired a segment, questioning whether current OSHA workplace health and safety regulations are adequate in protecting the nation's workforce from the hazards of combustible dust in the manufacturing sector.

Prior to this sensationalism in journalism , the House Education and Labor Committee through the leadership of Congressman George Miller (D-CA), drafted a crafty bill and held congressional hearings on combustible dust. Now after passage in the House, HR 5522, the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act awaits hearings and a vote in the Senate and eventually the Presidents signature.

False Presumption

Through all the political hoopla and national media attention after the tragic sugar dust explosion at the Imperial Sugar Refinery on February 7, 2008 in Port Wentworth , Georgia many including the provider of content on this site have mistakenly concluded that OSHA is at fault in not providing sufficient combustible dust regulations. This is a false presumption when the facts of the complex combustible dust issue are revealed.

Its much easier for congressional leaders to place all the blame on OSHA instead of fully researching the cause and effect of combustible dust incidents. Unfortunately, the media picks up on this misinformation and political spin that is perpetuated in conjunction with the Imperial Sugar Refinery tragedy.

Local Issue not Federal

Hazards of combustible dust in the manufacturing sector is a municipal, state or regional issue, not a federal problem. Whenever there is a fire or explosion at a manufacturing facility with combustible dust involved, who are the first responders in extinguishing the fire? Of course, it's either the facility fire brigade or the local fire department.

What jurisdictional protections must be followed to ensure the life safety and structural integrity of commercial buildings is instituted and maintained? Yes, thats correct, building and fire codes. Since when has it been OSHA's responsibility to act as first responders to industrial fires and enforcement of fire codes?

Fire Codes

Currently states are either utilizing the International Code Council, International Fire Code (IFC) or the National Fire Protection Association, Uniform Fire Code(UFC) with references to the numerous NFPA combustible dust codes. Following the 2006 Dust Hazard Study, the Chemical Safety Board determined that many fire inspectors are not knowledgeable concerning the hazards of combustible dust that are referenced in the fire codes. Additionally, the CSB report discovered that the IFC or UFC fire codes adopted by several states had not been properly addressed in relation to combustible dust concerning commercial buildings.

Standard of Care

So is the fire code issue an OSHA problem? As enforcement action, OSHA currently utilizes the General Duty Clause for manufacturing facilities that violate workplace health and safety standards concerning combustible dust hazards. These standards in addition to current OSHA regulations include nationally recognized standards of care that is recognized by industry consensus through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Many of these standards of care include NFPA 484 (metal dust), NFPA 664 (wood dust), NFPA 61 (agricultural/food dust), NFPA 654 (combustible particulate solids), and NFPA 120 (coal dust).


The combustible dust bill, HR 5522, the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act is redundant, which will require OSHA to incorporate the NFPA combustible dust codes that already are part of state fires codes. Furthermore, OSHA does not have enough financial resources and inspectors to inspect local manufacturing facilities with regularity like local jurisdictions do.

Georgia has taken the lead in requiring manufacturing facilities that generate combustible dust to register with the state. This action is similar to the
European Union combustible dust ATEX directive requiring explosion protection document submittal from manufacturing facilities. Workplace protection from the hazards of combustible dust need not be controlled at the federal level.

Instead of the question,
"Would combustible dust explosions occur if an OSHA comprehensive combustible dust standard was instituted?" The appropiate question would be, "Would combustible dust explosions occur if current fire codes followed the references to the NFPA combustible dust codes?"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Government Safety Data Underreported

Last week the House Committee on Education and Labor convened a hearing on OSHA's underreporting of on-the-job injuries and illnesses. This was old news concerning the underreporting by governmental agencies. Crucial data concerning workplace safety is vital in promulgating policy and regulations to protect the worker. OSHA should not be singled out in problems collecting data. The Chemical Safety Board, an independent governmental investigative agency is also underreporting and undercounting safety data in the 2006 release of the Combustible Dust Hazard Study.

Chemical Safety Board Underreporting

Specifically, the Chemical Safety Board provided to the public and OSHA accident data from 1980-2005, which included 281 combustible dust fires and explosions. The disclaimer in the report states : the combustible dust incidents included are likely only a small sampling, as no federal or state agency keeps specific statistics on combustible dust incidents, nor does any single data source provide a comprehensive collection of all these incidents, nor does any single data source provide a comprehensive collection of all these incidents

Furthermore, information about small combustible dust incidents and near-misses is also generally unavailable. For instance, because incidents that cause no fatalities, significant injuries, or major fires may not be recorded in the OSHA and fire incident databases, the true extent of the problem is likely understated. Due to these limitations, the CSB does not represent the incident data as complete or error-free, and other compilations of dust explosion data are available.

Fact or Fiction
So how can policy be developed concerning general combustible dust standards if policymakers and legislators have no idea of the extent of the problem? A small sampling is just that, a sample. The problem of only relying on a sampling has been exasperated in the last four months since the Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion, where Congress and the national media is utilizing the CSB incomplete data as fact.

Nowadays, since the conclusion of the 2006 CSB Dust Hazard Study, information concerning recent combustible dust incidents can easily be found with a Google search on the Internet, through numerous online news reports. Yet the CSB still persists in undercounting combustible dust incidents and releasing this information to Congress and the media.

For example, in recent incomplete data provided to Congress, the CSB has reported an additional 70 combustible dust explosions and fires since the 1980-2005 period, for a total of 350 combustible dust fires and explosions in the last 28 years. This equates to one incident a month which is disjointed and skewed from the actual extent of combustible dust incidents that are occurring. For example, in the last four months over 50 combustible dust fires and explosions have taken place in the manufacturing sector.


The Chemical Safety Board is a governmental accident investigative agency and not a research agency. Over the past decade CSB has performed a superb job with it's limited resources in finding the root cause of chemical plant accidents, fatalities, and injuries. At the completion of it's investigations CSB provides free educational videos on lessons learned and investigative reports in the prevention of future incidents.

Daily intensive research concerning where and when combustible dust incidents are occurring in the nation's manufacturing sector is not the job function of CSB. Instead of all the political posturing that is now occurring in Congress concerning the passage of a comprehensive general combustible dust bill, more attention needs to be directed in seeking accurate information concerning the entire scope of industry combustible dust incidents.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Oregon OSHA Aknowledges Combustible Dust Hazard

An interesting article was published today in the Pacific Northwest, written by veteran reporter Anne Saker of the Oregonian concerning Oregon OSHA and the hazard alerts the agency has sent out to approximately 2,500 manufacturing facilities in the state that handle combustible particulate solids which have the potential in generating combustible dust.

Combustible Dust Hazard Alerts is an excellent venue in bringing out an awareness concerning combustible dust. A follow-up to hazard alerts would be training concerning the complexities of combustible dust hazard recognition, hazard assessment, explosion hazard management, and understanding the numerous National Fire Protection combustible dust codes.

Other states can learn from example where Georgia is hosting a Fire Safety Symposium July 14-18 2008, which includes two days of training concerning combustible dust hazard recognition, which will be presented by Guy Colona, NFPA Vice President of Chemical Engineering and Amy Spencer NFPA Senior Chemical Engineer. Relying solely on good housekeeping is only one aspect of the solution in preventing and mitigating future combustible dust fires and explosions.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Georgia Leads in Preventing Combustible Dust Incidents

Georgia is now leading the nation in preventing future combustible dust incidents with a proactive program that requires all new and existing facilities that have operations involving the manufacturing, processing, and/or handling combustible particulate solids including manufacturing processes that create combustible dust to register with the state by July 1, 2008.

In addition to requiring facilities to register the Rules and Regulations for Loss Prevention Due to Combustible Dust Explosions and Fire were adopted by the state on March 7, 2008. These proactive measures provide a high level of safety awareness that will prevent and mitigate the occurrence of future combustible dust explosions and fires.

Georgia has adopted the International Fire Code, which makes reference to the numerous National Fire Protection Association combustible dust codes. Such as NFPA 654
Standard for the Prevention of Fire and Dust Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing, and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids, which is available for free viewing and purchase on the NFPA website.

Georgia Fire Safety Symposium
While taking the lead, the Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner, led by Commissioner John Oxendine has organized an educational program with the help of his professional staff, which is open to the public at the Georgia Fire Safety Symposium to be held at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, Georgia on July 14-18 2008. Several educational tracks will cover engineering/building inspections, hazardous materials inspections, and fire safety education for fire professionals who work daily in the fire protection filed. The Symposium is the 37th annual event and is part of the Fire Education program that the state provides in accordance with the mandate of Official Code of Georgia Annotated Title 25, Chapter 2.

Combustible Dust Training
A special aspect of the Symposium will be two days of training concerning NFPA Standards on Dust Explosions on Hazards. Guy Colona, NFPA Vice President of Chemical Engineering and Amy Spencer NFPA Senior Chemical Engineer will be providing the presentations. Topics will include dust hazard characterization, background on lessons learned from previous combustible dust incidents, hazard recognition, hazard assessment, and explosion hazard management.

Participants attending the two days of combustible dust training in the 500 seat auditorium will gain an understanding of the numerous NFPA combustible dust codes that are referenced in the International Fire Code, which cover metals, agricultural and food products, wood, explosion venting, and explosion prevention systems.

The most unique aspect of the Symposium is that it is open to the public. So now all stakeholders who work, manage, or own manufacturing facilities that generate combustible dust from combustible particulate solids will have chance to gain an understanding of the complex subject concerning combustilbe dust. After June 20, 2008 tickets will cost $125.00, a very reasonable fee considering the scope and depth of the content.

Other states can now learn from Georgia's proactive example in also instituting measures in preventing and mitigating future combustible dust incidents in addition to providing combustible dust training to stakeholders in their region.

2008 Brochure and Registration Forms
2008 Fire Safety Symposium Registration Form

Combustible Dust Characterization

Will it burn? Here is an excellent view of a combustible dust magnified over 1500X with the aid of a scanning electron microscope (SEM), the pictomicrograph provided by Phenom is 125 microns in height. So how many microns does a dust particle have to be in order to be considered a combustible dust? Electron microscopy can be quite useful in characterizing combustible particulate solids and the combustible dusts that are generated in the manufacturing process.

Theres many particles that will not pass through a 40 Mesh U.S Standard Testing sieve and would be inappropriately characterized as non-combustible. Such particles could be agglomerates that can be formed by triboelectric attraction or hydrogen bonding of hydrophillic particles . Does your manufacturing process generate agglomerates such as flocks in the manufacturing process?

In December 1995, the Malden Mills combustible dust explosion and fire destroyed the facility and injured 37. The Chemical Safety Board determined that static electricity ignited nylon flock fibers. What is the resistivity and minimum ignition energy (MIE) of the dust generated at your facility?

Can anyone guess what combustible dust is in the picture.? Just name it in the comments section and I'll let you know if you are correct. The winner will receive a free combustible dust report with the specific names of all the NAICS subsectors listed in Appendix D of the recent OSHA Combustible Dust NEP.

'Photo Credit: Phenom

Information Scanning Electron Microscope

Friday, June 13, 2008

Taking Responsibility For Worker Safety

Just one man's opinion.
by Curtis Gray

Having spent a large part of my life as executive management in manufacturing companies, often directly responsible for implementing safety compliance systems, I have to speak up on the notion of OSHA regulation.

In my experience, OSHA is a joke agency. All their efforts are spent running around trying to impose fines on small companies for failing to comply with this or that accident reporting requirements and not on safety inspections or regulatory compliance. The bigger the company the less likely they will ever see an OSHA inspector. Even when complaints are lodged by workers, the investigation consists of asking the company management for its side of the story, and then promptly accepting whatever explanation for the infraction is given.

Disband OSHA
Like most government regulatory agencies, OSHA is just a dog and pony show to placate people's need for "someone to do something" about a problem. They talk and talk, and spend millions of our tax dollars on developing regulations and then never really do anything but pay lip service to enforcement. To make matters worse, that same agency prevents any private recovery by barring employees from suing company owners for their willful negligence in taking calculated monetary risks with worker health and safety.

This is the true reason the agency even exists. Like most governmental agencies, OSHA was not founded "by, of and for" the people for some altruistic motive. OSHA was founded through collaboration between business owners whose primary concern was to protect themselves from lawsuits and to make the cost of killing people predictable as part of their financial risk management strategies, lawyers and insurance companies who thrive on regulatory environments, and legislators who can point to their efforts in support of regulation to show how “hard” they work for their constituents, especially in an election year.

So, in my opinion, the entire country might be MORE safe if OSHA was disbanded and the private sector was allowed to enforce safety by suing companies completely out of business that fail to provide safe work environments.

DeBruce Grain Elevator Explosion
I was just down the road a couple of miles when the De Bruce grain elevator in Wichita, KS exploded in 1998, killing seven and injuring several others. The ground shook so hard we believed that McConnell Air Force Base was under missile attack. Windows were shattered for blocks in every direction. Flames shot hundreds of feet into the air and the smoke plume choked us all.

We watched in horror as helicopters attempted to lift survivors from the burning roof. It is hard to imagine how many tax and private dollars were spent in rescue and firefighting efforts, or how much was lost by disruption of the companies all around the area. Then millions more was spent on legal fees while a flurry of lawsuits were attempted.

To my knowledge, no suits succeeded, because of OSHA regulations blocking those worker's families from such action. Instead, they were all given the "standard" $200K (the value OSHA places on a life) and told "too bad", that’s the way OSHA works. A recent article in the Wichita paper remembering the anniversary of the event says the fines to De Bruce for their part in the incident amounted to about $650K, if I remember the figure correctly.

I suspect that did not even cover the legal costs OSHA itself incurred in conducting the investigation and imposing the fine. I'm equally sure it meant nothing to De Bruce -- probably less than a week's profit, and probably paid by their insurance company, anyway. This was not the first incident for De Bruce, and not the first violation at that particular elevator.

60 Minutes Story
I read with interest the story produced earlier this month by "60 Minutes", as well as the long list of comments made by readers concerning dust explosions. All one has to do to really understand a huge underlying problem is to look at those comments, along with information available on this web site. People in this country spend too much time trying to get someone else to do something about their problems instead of dealing with the issue directly themselves.

One person says it's OSHA's fault, Another says it's the company's fault. They blame the workers. Another says the insurance companies should fix the problem. Good grief. There is only one fix. Hello to the workers of America - REFUSE TO WORK IN THOSE CONDITIONS. GO ON STRIKE OR GET ANOTHER JOB.

More Lawyers and Legislators
The only sure way to stop companies from taking advantage of the savings associated with failure to provide a safe work environment is for them not to able to get anyone to work for them. It’s all about the money. That is the nature of capitalism. We had a saying I remember growing up, “money talks, sh__ walks.” More tax dollars spent on bigger government and more unenforceable regulations will never solve the problem. People will continue to die and be injured. The only thing that will change with new legislation is that more lawyers and legislators will make more money.

The only way any public company has ever been forced to change anything about its behavior is through clipping its revenue stream. Fines and such mean nothing. It does not come out of “their” pocket, it comes out of “ours”. When a company is fined or the insurance rates go up because a law suit is lost, that just becomes another cost of doing business.

Costs are just rolled into price. The stock holders and managers don’t dig into their pockets and pay the fine. The price of the product just goes up. So, ultimately, passing regulations that result in fines to businesses only serves as another taxing mechanism for the government. No one gets hurt but the consumer, and of course, the worker.

True worker safety is about workers behaving in a safe manner, not about rules telling them they should. Don't we have enough history under our belts yet on this earth to recognize that people don't follow rules unless they want to? God himself, Creator of the universe, gave us rules to follow that have been violated since the dawn of time.

Why do we think rules made by OSHA will be any more respected? Even severe consequences, no matter by whom imposed, won't get it done. Again I site the consequences for failure to comply with God's rules. I don't think it can be much more severe than that. But we still don't follow the rules a great majority of the time because it is not convenient or expedient for us on an individual level.

My heart goes out to those who have been directly affected by every incident in the work place, dust explosion or otherwise. Thousands of workers are injured or killed at work every year. I have been injured on the job myself and spent years recovering to 90%, which is the best I will ever do. But it happened because I didn’t think about the unsafe manner in which I was behaving, not because I didn’t have Big Brother standing over my shoulder. I think most workplace injuries fall into that category. They are truly just legitimate accidents caused by the imperfect nature of the humans involved.

However, many ARE the direct result of known, unsafe working conditions for which regulations are already in place, like the De Bruce incident. The conditions are known both to the management AND the workers. And though I feel the corporations are complicate and liable, if you walk out in front of cars every day and eventually get hit by one, it's hard for me to place all the blame the driver or the manufacturer of the vehicle, even if they were speeding and talking on a cell phone, and even if the pedestrian had the legal “right of way”.

My dad only finished the 6th grade, but he was smart enough to teach me that rules don’t protect people – people have to protect themselves.

YOUR TURN: OSHA has lost its map


Questions, Problems, Feedback? Please send email by clicking this link...Thanks

©Copyright 2008-2012. Combustible Dust Policy Institute
The information in is not meant to be a substitute for the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Federal Register, and other OSHA documents, which should serve as the primary source of regulatory guidance. The information on this site should not be used in place of appropriate technical or legal advice related to your company's specific circumstances. Combustible Dust Policy Institute tries to provide quality information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this web site and its associated sites. Combustible Dust Policy Institute has no liability arising from or relating to the use, interpretation, or application of the information or its accuracy or inaccuracy. Copyright notice: All materials in this site are copyrighted by the Combustible Dust Policy Institute. No materials may be directly or indirectly published, posted to Internet and intranet distribution channels, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed in any medium without permission.