Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hardboard Plant Dust Fire

A Tuesday evening (8/19/08) combustible dust related fire at a Georgia Pacific hardboard plant in Duluth, Minnesota was extinguished after 19 firefighters battled the blaze for nearly two hours. The G-P facility manufactures hardboard, which is utilized for automotive door inserts, rear shelves, visors, seat foundations, load floors, head rest inserts, trunk trim, spare tire covers, quarter trim panels and headliners.

An excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Business states that:

“Hardboard, or fiberboard, panel is made from wood fibers that are steamed, rubbed apart, and then compacted under pressurized heat. Unlike particleboard, only a small amount of resin or adhesive is used to bond the fibers. Hardboard has a smooth finish and is used primarily for exterior house siding, indoor cabinets, and fixtures.”

NAICS 321219 (Reconstituted Wood Product Manufacturing)

The manufacturing of hardboard follows under NAICS 321219 (Reconstituted Wood Product Manufacturing), which are manufacturing plants that produce hardboard, particleboard, insulation board, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), waferboard, oriented strand board (OSB), and other panelized products produced from wood chips and particles (combustible particulate solids) CPS.

NAICS 321219 is listed in the OSHA Combustible Dust National Emphasis Directive in Appendix D-1 as an Industry with More Frequent and/or High Consequence Combustible Dust Explosions/Fires.. U.S Census economic data lists 278 establishments in the United States that are reconstituted wood product manufacturing facilities. The industry provides over $5 billion dollars of economic stimulus for the nation in conjunction with employing over 20,000 workers.

OSHA Inspections
Since the first of the year, the OSHA IMIS database indicates that 17 inspections have taken place at NAICS 321219 facilities throughout the United States, which 8 were planned, 2 accident, and 4 compliant. Minnesota, where the G-P plant is located had one inspection at similar facility in Solway, MN.

Two months ago at a reconstituted wood product facility in Oconomowoc, WI, a combustible dust General Duty Clause citation was issued, which stated :

"where the employer did not furnish a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm, including severe burns, to employees in that workers were exposed to dust explosion, deflagration, or other fire hazards from dust collectors being located inside a building."

The last OSHA inspection of record for the G-P Duluth plant was two years ago. OSHA inspectors, with their limited resources have a fulltime job with inspection and enforcement activities in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” where a diverse spectrum of over 8,000 manufacturing plants are located.

Over the past six months, at the research facility in Santa Fe, Texas, the Combustible Dust Policy Institute has discovered through media accounts that five combustible dust related explosions and fires have occurred at reconstituted wood product manufacturing facilities in the United States. Overall, over 80 combustible dust related fires and explosion have occurred since the Imperial Sugar Refinery dust explosion.

CSB Skewed Data
Of these recent incidents, injuries have occurred at six percent of the facilities. On a side note, the Chemical Safety Board Dust Hazard Study, revealed that from 1980-2005 in the 281 combustible dust incidents that were found, over 70 percent of the incidents incurred fatalities and injuries. Many who read or hear this data in news reports and congressional testimony are falsely mislead to believe that all combustible dust fires and explosions will result in a 70% fatality and injury rate. This is a far stretch from reality and only deviates from an informative approach in achieving a combustible dust solution to the benefit of the worker and workplace.

Recent Incidents-NAICS 321219
Just recently, five days ago a combustible dust related fire flared up at a wood pellet facility in Maine. Additionally, last month a dust explosion damaged a dust collector at a particle board plant in Lenoir, North Carolina. In both these incidents there were no injuries. Lenoir Fire Chief Ken Briscoe, a veteran in fighting combustible dust related fires, stated that the explosion ventilation panels and facility fire suppression system mitigated the damage at the Lenoir facility.

Other stakeholders who work in the reconstituted wood product manufacturing industry should take a second look at their plant and conduct a process hazard analysis, where ignition hazards can be identified. NFPA 664 Standard for the Prevention of Fires and Explosions in Wood Processing and Woodworking Facilities is an excellent resource and will assist in understanding the preventative and mitigative measures which will lessen the likelihood and reduce the severity of future incidents that are an inherent aspect of doing business in this specific industry.

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