Saturday, January 10, 2009

Indiana Dust Explosion-Nation's First for 2009

First manufacturing sector dust explosion of the year in the USA, amazingly less than two weeks after the last explosion when a grain facility explosion injured three workers a few days after Christmas in Maricopa, Arizona and now another explosion has occurred at a furniture manufacturing plant in Jasper, Indiana sending ten workers to the hospital according to news accounts.

Dust explosions do not differentiate between the grain, manufacturing, non-manufacturing, and utility sectors. It's been nearly a year since the catastrophic Imperial Sugar Refinery dust explosion that claimed 14 lives and over 40 injuries at the Port Wentworth, Georgia facility.

Immediately after the Imperial Sugar incident, legislators drafted a worker protection combustible dust bill, "HR 5522: Worker Protection against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act, " which meagerly passed in the House and is awaiting vote in the Senate in between a change of White House leadership. Current OSHA regulations have no specific protective provisions for the manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors concerning combustible dust hazards like are already in place for the nation's grain facilities with the OSHA Grain Facility Standard.

Yet, facilities can be cited by OSHA inspectors for poor housekeeping and dangerous electrical hazardous locations where potential explosive atmospheres of combustible dust are present. Additionally, through national consensus where a standard duty of care is required by employers the General Duty Clause can be enforced, referencing the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) combustible dust standards, concerning combustible dust hazards that employees are potentially exposed too.

Are governmental inspections enough? The U.S. 2002 Economic Census listed over 4,000 establishments in the national industry of nonupholstered wood household furniture manufacturing, which the Indiana facility is listed under. Over that past 12 months with OSHA's limited resources, 112 furniture plants, or less than 3% were inspected and as the numbers dwindled even lower, according to the OSHA database, only seven of the thousands of the nonupholstered wood household furniture facilities were inspected with an emphasis on combustible dust as outlined in the OSHA's Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP)

It's to early to be an armchair quarterback, trying to figure what happened in the recent unfortunate Jasper, Indiana dust explosion. Amazingly there were no fatalities so life safety was preserved. Mission continuity will be disrupted for awhile and it appears from pictures in news accounts that the structural integrity of the building is intact. It's not a good time for a plant to be shut down for repairs with employees out of work during these tough economic times. The nation prays for a fast recovery of the workers that were admitted to the hospital. Hopefully real soon everything will get back to normal on the production line.

In the meantime who's next? A combustible dust related fire or explosion is inevitable within the next few days. In 2008, the Combustible Dust Policy Institute found through media reports over 200+ combustible dust related fires and explosions in the manufacturing, non-manufacturing, utility, and grain sectors, for an average of four incidents a week. But those are just the incidents that appear in media accounts. Like an iceberg adrift on the ocean with only the tip showing, there are many more that are unreported. This results in industry stakeholders never knowing the probability of an incident occurring at their facility. One has better odds at the Blackjack table in Vegas, at least you know what your hand is.

For additional information on identifying, evaluating, and controlling the hazards of combustible dust related fires and explosions at your facility, the Combustible Dust Policy Institute in conjunction with the 4th Annual Industrial Fire, Safety, and Security Conference -IFSS 2009 will be hosting a Two Day Combustible Dust Hazard Workshop at the Reliant Center(next to the Astrodome), February 3-4, 2009, in Houston Texas.

IFSS 2009 Conference Contacts
Phone: (832) 242-1969
Fax: (832) 242-1971


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