Combustible Dust Remains Major Unregulated Work Place Hazard
- May 27, 2016
- By: Tom Schimmerling
Combustible dust is an umbrella term that encompasses the finely ground form of many common substances in a wide range of manufacturing processes, from food production to metal and alloy processing. The production processes in all of these industries create dust byproducts that become suspended in the air and can easily become “explosible,” a term that refers to a substance’s capability of being exploded. In short, combustible dust can be the product of sugar, spices, starches, flour, grain, feed, tobacco, wood, plastics, rubber, textiles, pharmaceuticals, dyes, and metals, among many other common products.
Deadly dust endangers workers
The process that leads to explosions with combustible dust is fairly simple – when a critical mass of dust is suspended in the air, a small spark can ignite it, setting off major industrial disasters. To illustrate the extent to which such explosions can endanger the lives of American workers, consider the sugar plant explosion in Georgia in which 14 people were killed and another 42 were injured. This disaster eventually led to the factory to be shuttered. In another similar explosion in a metal processing facility, three workers were killed when alloy dust became explosible and sparked a major explosion.
Administrative actions fall short
Despite the fact that there have been literally hundreds of combustible dust explosions in the U.S., federal regulators continue to refuse to implement effective regulations to help eliminate the pervasive practices that lead to these tragedies. Most recently, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) shelved a combustible dust rule, relegating it the “long-term actions” category with no deadline for progress. Understandably, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board classified OSHA’s lack of action as “unacceptable.”
This is especially true in light of the fact that OSHA inspectors at the very factories where fatal accidents occurred failed to identify dust-related hazards or issue appropriate citations and fines. One such inspector, a 28-year OSHA veteran lamented that he never received any training on industrial dust during his entire tenure at the agency. Tragically, an iron foundry he inspected in Massachusetts was destroyed by a dust explosion, killing three people and severely injuring nine others.
Regardless of their cause, work site accidents leave victims and their families struggling for years to come. If you have been affected by such an accident, call an experienced construction site accident attorney to discuss your case.