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What Combustible Dust Standards Do You Have to Follow?

August 28, 2017

If you’re up on the latest workplace health and safety news (or if you’re a regular reader of this blog), you know that last month OSHA removed the combustible dust standard from its regulatory agenda. What does this mean for you as a manufacturer or an industrial processor with a facility that contains combustible dust? What standards do you need to follow to ensure compliance with all of the regulations in your jurisdiction?

This article looks at the path from standard to law and identifies three types of combustible dust regulations you should be aware of.

How a combustible dust standard becomes a law

Earlier this month, fire protection engineer Russell Bainbridge authored an excellent article on MyDustExplosionResearch.com about how standards become laws. We recommend you read the whole article to gain a full understanding of the issue.

Here are the CliffsNotes:

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) develops combustible dust standards. On their own, these standards provide recommendations and best practices, but they aren’t legally binding.

There are several industry- and commodity-specific standards related to combustible dust:

As well as a unifying standard that was released just last year:

Other standards also contain guidance on combustible dust:

These standards become law when they are adopted by a local, state, or federal jurisdiction.

3 ways NFPA standards can be adopted into law

Manufacturers and industrial processors need to be aware of three main ways NFPA standards can become laws.

OSHA

OSHA relies heavily on the NFPA for its fire-related standards, and OSHA standards are mandatory.

Even though a combustible dust final rule is off the table for now, several current OSHA standards include provisions about combustible dust. In addition, the General Duty Clause is a catch-all for recognized hazards not addressed in a specific standard. OSHA also has a Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program that it uses to inspect, and cite, facilities for dust-related hazards.

Keep in mind that only about half of states operate under federal OSHA. The rest have an OSHA-approved state plan, and these state plans are often even more stringent.

Building codes

Every jurisdiction has building codes, which may be established and enforced at the state, county, or local level. Currently, the International Building Code (IBC) is in use in all 50 states, New York City, Washington DC, and the U.S. territories. However, they don’t all use the same version, and many modify the codes to match their unique circumstances.

As Bainbridge notes in his article, the IBC considers combustible dust areas as part of Group H-2, which includes occupancies containing materials that have a deflagration potential or that create a hazard from accelerated burning. As such, several NFPA standards apply, depending on the type of occupancy (food processing, metalworking, etc.).

Fire codes

Finally, every jurisdiction also has fire codes. Again, these may be established and enforced at various levels, and there are about as many versions of the codes out there as there are jurisdictions.

There are three main standards used as the foundation of fire codes in the United States:

If you’re starting to feel like this is all pretty complicated, you’re right! Few jurisdictions are exactly alike. But they do all have one thing in common: they’ll all hand out citations, fines, or worse to facilities that don’t comply.

The best way you can protect your company and your people is to be informed. Talk to your local OSHA, building, and fire inspectors. Make sure you understand all of the combustible dust regulations in your area and hazards in your facility. When you’re ready to talk housekeeping and mitigation strategies, we’re here to help!

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