CSB: Combustible Dust, Hot
Work among Critical Areas in Industrial Safety
Two new fact sheets published by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board describe the agency’s recommendations regarding combustible dust safety and safe hot work practices. These topics are two of CSB’s “drivers of critical chemical safety change”—key initiatives, previously known as CSB’s “most wanted safety improvements,” that in the agency’s view are most likely to achieve significant improvements in safety across the U.S. if implemented. Other areas identified by CSB include modernizing U.S. process safety management regulations, emergency response and planning, and preventive maintenance. CSB previously identified combustible dust as a “critical issue” in industrial safety. Following a nationwide combustible dust hazard study in 2006, which examined the scope of the problem and recommended safety measures for facilities that handle combustible dust powders, CSB first recommended that OSHA issue a standard designed to prevent combustible dust fires and explosions in general industry. In 2013, the agency identified its recommendation to develop a combustible dust standard as CSB’s first “most wanted chemical safety improvement.” According to CSB, fires and explosions fueled by combustible dust continue to injure and kill workers in many industries, including food processing, oil production, fuel storage, waste treatment, and pulp and paper manufacturing. The agency’s Office of Incident Screening and Selection identifies serious dust-related incidents on a regular basis. To prevent combustible dust explosions, CSB states that the hazards must be understood; OSHA must develop a comprehensive combustible dust regulation based on NFPA standards; and OSHA’s regulation must be enforced. OSHA began rulemaking in October 2009, but the agency has yet to issue a proposed rule. The next step in the federal rulemaking process, convening a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act panel, has been postponed several times. More information about combustible dust is available in CSB’s new fact sheet, which is available as a PDF. Safe hot work practices are another area of focus for CSB. According to the agency, explosions and fires caused by hot work—burning, welding, or similar spark-producing operations—are among the most common incidents it investigates. CSB’s new fact sheet (PDF) summarizes “key lessons” to prevent worker deaths during hot work in and around storage tanks. The agency urges industrial facilities to avoid hot work and consider alternative methods whenever possible. Facilities should perform a hazard assessment prior to beginning hot work and should monitor the atmosphere both before and during hot-work activities. Other CSB recommendations include using written permits to ensure that qualified personnel are familiar with the specific site hazards; thoroughly training personnel on hot work policies, procedures, proper use and calibration of gas detectors, and safety equipment; and providing safety supervision for outside contractors conducting hot work.  More information about CSB’s drivers of critical chemical safety change can be found on the agency’s website.