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UPDATE: CSB Issues Call to Action on Combustible Dust Management and Control

Posted on November 12, 2018

Dec. 3 update — The CSB has extended the deadline for responses until Dec. 31, 2018. Email combustibledust@csb.gov for more information or to submit your comments.

Last month, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a call to action on combustible dust hazards as part of its ongoing investigation into the 2017 Didion Mill explosion that killed five workers and injured 12 more. They’re asking for companies, regulators, inspectors, researchers, workers, and more to comment on the management and control of combustible dust.

Combustible dust incidents are 100% preventable. The problem is that many employers either don’t recognize the hazards or have proper controls in place. In their interviews after five dust explosions, including the one at Didion Milling, the CSB uncovered wide variation in perceptions of combustible dust hazards. For example, many workers and management personnel alike reported that the facilities were “spic and span” or that, while dust was present, it was at a “safe” or “manageable” level.

CSB Interim Executive Kristen Kulinowski commented: “Our dust investigations have identified the understanding of dust hazards and the ability to determine a safe dust level in the workplace as common challenges. While there is a shared understanding of the hazards of dust, our investigations have found that efforts to manage those hazards have often failed to prevent a catastrophic explosion.”

With the call to action, the CSB seeks a deeper understanding of the gap between perception and reality when it comes to dust hazards. Here are some of the questions they’re asking:

  • How should the effectiveness of housekeeping be measured? What methods work best (e.g., cleaning methods, staffing, schedules)?
  • As equipment is used and ages, it requires mechanical integrity to maintain safe and efficient operability. How does inspection, maintenance, and overall mechanical integrity efforts play a role in dust accumulations, and how are organizations minimizing such contributions in the workplace?
  • How common are dust fires in the workplace that do not result in an explosion? Does this create a false sense of security?

To date, the CSB has issued four recommendations to OSHA calling for a combustible dust standard. So far, OSHA has not done so — the last update was in spring of 2017, when the agency removed the combustible dust standard from its regulatory agenda. With this call to action, “the CSB aims to spearhead actionable dialogue between industry, regulator, workforce, and others to achieve safety improvements in the management of combustible dust beyond regulatory promulgation.”

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