Friday, August 22, 2008

Wood Pellet Plant Dust Explosion Again

http://www.herald-mail.com/?cmd=displaystory&story_id=201753&format=html

Within six weeks another combustible dust explosion occurred at AJ Stove and Pellets in Marion, PA., which is a wood pellet manufacturing facility. Since there were no fatalities or injuries in the prior hopper explosion on July 15, an OSHA inspection did not ensue.

This is not a question of OSHA inspections after manufacturing facility combustible dust explosions or fires but whether local fire inspectors working closely with the responding fire departments have means to communicate issues of fire safety after a combustible dust related fire or explosion.

It's much easier to draft a combustible dust bill instead of the time consuming effort that is needed to address the root of the problem. Which is local fire inspections utilizing a building permit system to assist in funding fire inspectors for proactive inspections of manufacturing facilities.

OSHA resources are already strained and less than 10% of the nations manufacturing plants are inspected with the unique NAICS in the wood pellet industry. Would local fire marshal inspections lessen the number of incidents while at the same time reduce the severity of combustible dust related fires and explosions? A community in New Zealand offers an excellent alternative to fire safety concerning commercial buildings, utilizing fire inspectors.

In the past six months, over 50% of combustible dust explosions occurring in the manufacturing sector are repeats of prior combustible dust fires and explosions. A majority of these had no record of OSHA inspections prior to or after the event. The prevalence of incidents will continue to reoccur until the root of the problem is addressed and that is cooperation between fire departments and fire inspectors after the initial incident.

Three days prior to the AJ Stove & Pellet explosion, Industrial Roller Company in Smithton, Illinois had a rubber dust explosion in the dust hopper and the fireball exiting the hopper severely burned a worker. From a news report in the Belleville New Democrat, Mike Schutzenhofer, assistant chief of the Smithton Fire Department, stated, “In the last four years or so, we’ve been called there for about six fires involving their dust collection system,” Schutzenhofer said. “This is the first one where there’s been an injury.”

Waiting for an injury is to late for taking action. In a proactive manner, all combustible dust related fires need to be investigated to ensure general consensus industry standards of care located in the NFPA combustible dust standards are adhered too. For example, a fire inspector or fire chief, knowledgeable about NFPA combustible dust standards might of realized earlier at the Industrial Roller location that the dust hopper was in too close proximity to the driveway, street, and rear garage door of the plant.

Instead relocating the process unit in a restricted area, safely away from pedestrian traffic would be the course of action in lessening the severity (mitigating) the explosion, according to the NFPA combustible dust standards. Monday morning armchair quarterbacking after the worker was severely burned is too late now. Hopefully in the future, the root of the combustible dust issue will be addressed with local jurisdictional interaction between all stakeholders. An OSHA comprehensive combustible dust regulation will not provide the workplace protection that is direly needed with the current lack of OSHA resources.

 

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