In the wake of the Imperial Sugar (formerly Dixie Crystal) dust explosion which killed 12 and has 11 more in critical condition. There has been a lot of awakening to the fact that OSHA can only recommend the strategy to defend against explosions in plants where there is a high possibility of an explosion due to combustible dust particles.
The Weekly Toll blog, which is the sister site of the USMWF- United Support & Memorial For Workplace Fatalities, started a petition 2 days after the explosion, that states:
We want OSHA to issue comprehensive combustible dust standards and we fully back the Committee on Education and Labor in their request to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao for answers and action based on the CBS investigations and recommendations.That petition can be found here also, at the top left hand side. It can also be found on the Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires blog, which was created by Watermon, who is the same man who created the Combustible dust accident Google map and is a contributer of the OSHA Underground blog.
A byproduct is that this is the first case in which I have noticed both labor federations as a united front. Both blogs are fighting for this. Both are spreading awareness with some of their top writers. While it would be nice if they mentioned Weekly Toll and the petition, I guess we'll take what we can get.
Heres the most recent stories from both, and they have both covered this in depth previously:
Change To Win 3-04-08
OSHA to Workers: All Right, All Right, We'll Check if Your Workplace is About to Explode. But Just This Once!
On February 20, I wrote in this space about OSHA's inaction on the problem of "combustible dust" -- invisible particles that build up in some workplaces, creating a dangerous risk of explosions -- and how that inaction led to the deaths of twelve workers and injuries to many more when the Imperial Sugar plant at Port Wentworth, Georgia exploded on February 8, along with many other deaths and injuries in other accidents over the years.
Since then, there has been a steadily growing call for OSHA to (belatedly) do something about combustible dust. On February 20, several Change to Win unions presented Labor Secretary Elaine Chao with a petition demanding action, and op-ed pages in Georgia have taken up the call as well.
Yesterday, Congressional leaders Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) introduced legislation to force OSHA to act and scheduled hearings for March 12 to investigate why the agency dragged its feet. And also yesterday -- nearly a month after the Imperial Sugar explosion, and just days before those hearings -- OSHA chief Edwin Foulke, Jr. announced that his agency would finally be doing something:
Federal inspections will be carried out at hundreds of plants where combustible dust is a workplace hazard, a top safety official said Monday at a sugar refinery where dust is suspected of causing a deadly explosion.
Ed Foulke Jr., head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, announced the inspections while visiting the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, where a blast on Feb. 7 killed 12 workers injured dozens more.
OSHA has not completed its investigation of that explosion but is sending letters to 30,000 companies that deal with combustible dust to discuss the dangers, Foulke said in a telephone interview.
But the question isn't whether or not OSHA will do a one-time inspection or send an "FYI" letter to corporations and hope they will voluntarily clean up their workplaces. The question is whether OSHA will enact a permanent, standing rule that will ensure now and in the future that buildups of combustible dust are prevented. And the AP report on OSHA's new statement makes it clear that OSHA is in no hurry to make that rule:
Foulke said Monday that more work must be done to determine whether existing standards on ventilation and factory housekeeping can be used to address existing concerns, and to determine how a standard can be crafted so it makes sense for different industries with different types of dust.
So OSHA's position is that we need more research to determine if there's any need to do anything about these factories that keep blowing up. Never mind that the Chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said in November 2006 that "new federal standards are necessary to prevent further loss of life" from combustible dust accidents.
These hearings ought to be pretty lively, don't you think?
(By the way, if you want to follow this issue, a great resource is the new Dust Explosions blog. It's a product of the same person who created that Google Map of combustible dust explosions I cited in my earlier post on combustible dust. The OSHA Underground blog is useful as well.)
UPDATE (12:20PM): From UFCW -- Chao and OSHA: Too Little Too Late:
The explosions could have been prevented had OSHA heeded the recommendations made by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board made in November 2006. That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards following three worksite catastrophic dust explosions that killed 14 workers in 2003. The CSB report noted that a quarter of the explosions that occurred between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar plants.
OSHA’s Katrina-like inaction on this workplace risk follows a pattern of the agency ignoring scientific evidence and its own rule-making guidelines. By law, OSHA was supposed to respond to the CSB’s recommendations within six months.
House Democrats Call for Strong Standards to Prevent Dust Explosions
Memorial to the 12 workers killed in the Imperial Sugar Co. blast.
The Feb. 7 sugar dust explosion in Port Wentworth, Ga., that killed 12 Imperial Sugar Co., workers and seriously injured another 11 who are still in the hospital, has resulted in renewed calls for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create combustible dust level standards to prevent such explosions.
Yesterday, Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.), House Education and Labor Committee chairman, and John Barrow (D-Ga.) introduced legislation requiring OSHA to move quickly on a dust standard.
Without a congressional mandate, however, it doesn’t appear as though OSHA will move any more quickly than it has in the past when safety experts determined a standard was needed. OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke told reporters Monday that before OSHA would act:
We need to have the documentation, we have to have the research, we need to have the evidence.
Here’s a question for Foulke. Aren’t the 281 dust explosions that have killed 119 workers and seriously injured another 781 since 1980 evidence enough that it’s time to put rules in place to prevent such deadly blasts and keep workers alive? Says Miller:
The tragedy at Imperial Sugar shows that the threat of dust explosions is very real at industrial worksites across America and needs to be addressed immediately. It’s unfortunate that it takes the Congress of the United States to tell OSHA how to do its job. The agency has known about these dangers for a long time and should have acted years ago to prevent explosions like this one. Workers cannot be asked to wait any longer for these basic protections.
In 2006, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board issued a report calling for mandatory regulations to prevent such explosions. But OSHA has ignored the board’s calls for dust level standards and instead is relying on corporations to voluntarily regulate themselves. Foulke said OSHA’s next step is sending letters to some 30,000 businesses about the dangers of combustible dust.
When dust builds up to dangerous levels in industrial worksites, it can become fuel for fires and explosions. Combustible dust can come from many sources, such as sugar, flour, feed, plastics, wood, rubber, furniture, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dyes, coa and metals, and so poses a risk across a number of different industries.
About a quarter of the dust explosions have occurred in the food industry and last week, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), along with the Teamsters (IBT), petitioned OSHA to issue an emergency combustible dust standard.
The day after the Port Wentworth explosion, Miller and Rep. Lynn Woolsley (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Workforce Protections subcommittee, sent a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao urging her to take immediate steps to move OSHA to issue mandatory rules on combustible dust. She has yet to respond.
Sign the petition, you can do it here or just go directly to the Petition Site