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Industry Reacts to Halt of OSHA Combustible Dust Rulemaking

July 28, 2017

In the wake of news that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) rulemaking process for combustible dust regulations in general industry is indefinitely halted, industry organizations, equipment makers, and end users have remained relatively mum, suggesting that not much may change as a result of the Trump administration’s move.

“While the current agenda may seem like welcome news in industries where combustible dust is present (food processing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, metalworking, woodworking, and many others), it’s important to keep in mind that OSHA does not need a formal standard to impose penalties,” a July 24 blog post on industrial vacuum maker Nilfisk’s website said. “Under the Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program, the agency can issue dust-related fines under 18 different CFR standards, as well as the General Duty Clause. Those fines can be steep, easily totaling tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Nilfisk, which offers a number of products to combat combustible dust hazards, points out that even though the sands are shifting, firms must remain vigilant about the risks.

“Despite the changing regulatory environment, it’s still in employers’ best interest to understand and prevent hazards, like combustible dust, that can have devastating consequences for their workers and their facilities,” Nilfisk said.

Air Handling Systems’ Jamison Scott, who speaks on combustible dust issues at industry events, echoed the sentiment of Nilfisk’s blog post, telling Woodworking Network that he expects the Trump administration’s move to have little impact on firms’ adherence to NFPA combustible dust standards.

The bottom line? The way that OSHA deals with combustible dust-related incidents may not change as a result of the rulemaking process’ abandonment.

Some observers were quick to decry the move as a blatant threat to worker safety, like Ken Bickerton, an EHS consultant, who tweeted on July 26 that “the termination of work on combustible dust is a disaster waiting to happen yet again.”

Powder & Bulk Solids examination of the news’ impact revealed that few firms, organizations, and individuals have expressed support for the withdraw. Christopher Clark, a representative of the North American Millers’ Association, an organization representing an industry known for combustible dust hazards, told Bloomberg BNA that he supports the deregulation efforts. 

Though the rules have been in the works for several years, Imperial Systems Inc., a manufacturer of dust collector systems, points out that the agency’s proposed regulations face some significant hurdles.

“The main problem is that such a regulation would affect nearly any industry that produces dust, since almost all dust is potentially explosive, and every process that causes dust to be produced,” the Jackson, PA company wrote on July 26. “With uncountable numbers of different types of dust and different processes, making combustible dust regulations that could cover all of these was a very difficult task from the beginning. This kind of regulation would have to cover industries from food to metalworking to plastics to pharmaceuticals. It would be a huge job to figure it all out and make it enforceable.”

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