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National Combustible Dust Standard Delayed Again

December 15, 2014

By Joe Florkowski

OSHA has moved plans to adopt combustible dust regulations to long-term actions, meaning that the process of adopting rules to prevent accidents, fires, and explosions within industries that use such material will be delayed again.

The White House released its Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions in late November; the Agenda details which regulatory actions the administration plans to prioritize in 2015. The combustible dust standard was moved to long-term actions in this most recent update.

OSHA informed Powder & Bulk Solids that the rule has been delayed because of other priorities. “We’ve had to make some tough choices to use very limited resources to prioritize finalizing rules like silica, confined spaces in construction, and a few others, and continue our work on infectious diseases and beryllium. A rule on combustible dust remains a concern and we continue to work on it, but we moved that effort into our long-term plan while we continue our enforcement efforts,” wrote an OSHA spokesperson.

This is not the first time that the combustible dust standard has been moved to the long-term actions section of the administration’s regulatory update. First proposed as a prestage rule in the administration’s regulatory update in spring 2009, the combustible dust standard was moved to long-term actions in the spring 2010 and fall 2011 updates. But since fall 2011, the rule has remained in the prerule and proposed stages until the November regulatory update.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has recommended that OSHA adopt a combustible dust standard since the mid-2000s, after the Board recorded 281 combustible dust incidents in a nearly 25-year period between 1980 and 2005. Those incidents killed 119 people and injured more than 700.

“OSHA’s decision to move the rules into the long-term actions stage is disappointing but the Board will continue to speak with the agency about this,” said Daniel Horowitz, managing director for the U.S. CSB, which is an independent federal agency that investigates chemical accidents. “We view this as a tremendously important issue and we are going to keep raising it until there is some sort of progress.”

Since the CSB recommended OSHA adopt a combustible dust standard, combustible dust accidents, deaths, and injuries have continued to occur. In a five-year period from 2008-2012, the CSB found 50 combustible dust incidents/accidents, resulting in 29 deaths and 161 injuries.

“It’s tragic to watch. This could be prevented by requiring companies to follow what industry already recommends,” said Horowitz.

Some of the frustration over this issue stems from that there are industry-followed guidelines from organizations such as National Fire Protection Association on how to avoid combustible dust accidents. Companies that follow these guidelines can avoid accidents, according to Horowitz.

“There just aren’t adequate regulatory tools to get all companies to follow these recommendations,” said Horowitz, who is said the CSB is optimistic that rules will be developed to address combustible dust. “Despite the setbacks, we believe we eventually will get a standard in place.”

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