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.

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