Committee on Education and Labor - U.S. House of Representatives

Preventing Industrial Dust Explosions

Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosion and Fires Act (H.R. 5522)

The Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosion and Fires Act, passed by the House on April 30, would require the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue rules regulating combustible industrial dusts, like sugar dust, that can build up to hazardous levels and explode. In early February the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, exploded, killing 13 workers and severely injuring many more. OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which have launched a major investigation into the Imperial Sugar explosion, have concluded that the explosion was caused by combustible sugar dust.

Workers cannot be asked to wait any longer for these basic protections.

In 2006, following a series of fatal combustible dust explosions,the U.S. Chemical Safety Board conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards.It identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers, injured 718 others, and extensively damaged industrial facilities. 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.

OSHA has known about these dangers for years, but has failed to act. The Chemical Safety Board urged OSHA in 2006 to issue rules controlling dust hazards, but OSHA has never offered any indication that it is planning to issue such rules. The agency has the authority to issue such rules without Congress passing new legislation, but it has failed to act. The CSB concluded that voluntary dust standards issued by the National Fire Protection Association were effective if employers complied with them.

Since 2001, in case after case and industry after industry, OSHA has chosen to emphasize voluntary compliance over setting strong rules and enforcing them. Effective voluntary guidelines to control combustible dust hazards and prevent dust explosions already exist. But to truly protect workers, OSHA needs an enforceable standard is based on these voluntary guidelines. Without an OSHA standard, many employers are unaware of the hazards of combustible dusts, while others have chosen not to adopt voluntary standards.

Background Information on 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, coal, and metals, and therefore poses a risk across a number of different industries throughout the United States.  

To address dust hazards, H.R. 5522 would:

  • Direct OSHA to issue an interim final Combustible Dust standard within 90 days. The standard would include measures to minimize hazards associated with combustible dust through improved housekeeping, engineering controls, worker training and a written combustible dust safety program.
  • Direct OSHA to issue a final standard within eighteen months. OSHA would be required to include relevant parts of National Fire Protection Association standards. In addition to items required in the interim standard, the final standard would include requirements for building design and explosion protection. The interim standard would remain in effect until the final standard is issued. OSHA would be required to fulfill all administrative rulemaking requirements including full public hearings, feasibility analysis and small business review.
  • Direct OSHA to include combustible dusts in the Hazard Communication Standard which requires workers to receive information and training about the hazards they face.