CSB Investigation Spurs “Call to Action” on Combustible Dust Hazards
In October, as part of its ongoing investigation of the May 2017 explosions at the Didion milling facility in Cambria, Wis., the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a “call to action” on combustible dust. CSB sought comments on the management and control of combustible dust from individuals and entities involved in the safe conduct of work within inherently dust-producing environments.  CSB called on companies, regulators, inspectors, safety training providers, researchers, unions, and workers affected by dust-related hazards to provide input on topics such as the recognition and measurement of “unsafe” levels of dust in the workplace, the maintenance of effective dust collection systems, and the challenges of implementing industry guidance or standards pertaining to dust control and management. The agency also requested information on methods for communicating the low-frequency, high-consequence hazards of combustible dust and systems for helping employees recognize and address dust hazards. Comments were due to CSB at the end of November.
CSB said that it would use the information to better understand the real-world challenges of preventing dust explosions and to explore new opportunities for safety improvements.  According to a CSB study conducted in 2006, there were 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that resulted in the deaths of 119 workers. An additional 718 workers were injured. These incidents occurred in a variety of industries in 44 states, CSB said in a news release.  Since 2006, the agency has confirmed 105 additional combustible dust incidents, five of which it has investigated. Those five incidents alone killed 26 workers and injured 61 others. The Didion facility was used for “dry corn milling,” which involves grinding and separating kernels of corn to create corn products. The corn milling process generates corn dust, which is combustible. The explosions occurred at night, when only 19 workers were present at the facility. Five were killed and the other 14 were injured. The explosions also caused four of the facility’s five buildings to collapse. More information about the incident is available from the CSB website. Combustible dust safety is one of CSB’s “drivers of critical chemical safety change,” which are key initiatives identified by CSB. These “drivers” were previously known as CSB’s “most wanted safety improvements”—a list of changes 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 its 2006 study of combustible dust hazards, 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. Other CSB recommendations include calls for a comprehensive general industry standard for combustible dust, but OSHA has yet to issue a proposed rule. More information about combustible dust is available from a CSB news release. “By the Numbers” in this issue presents additional information about recent combustible dust incidents.
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The agency also requested information on methods for communicating the low-frequency, high-consequence hazards of combustible dust and systems for helping employees recognize and address dust hazards.