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Combustible dust protections: Congress considers bill

By definition, combustible dust can explode. And when it happens in the workplace, it can cause severe injuries and even death.

Death and serious injuries are precisely what happened five years ago at a sugar factory in Georgia. Fourteen workers were killed on the job in that explosion. Dozens more were injured.

In order to prevent such explosions, Congress is considering legislation that could improve safety for industrial workers in Pennsylvania and across the country. This month, three U.S. representatives reintroduced a bill called the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act (H.R. 691).

The bill would require a key federal safety agency to issue rules that would prevent combustible dusts from building up to levels that create excessive risk of explosions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would be required to make use of applicable dust control guidelines from the National Fire Association Standards.

Combustible dusts come in various types. They include dusts from:

• Wood coal

• Sugar

• Metal

Many food processing facilities use sugar. And all sorts of industrial facilities use metal as part of their production processes.

Of course, just because a bill is introduced doesn't mean it will be passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president. And even after passage, it will take diligent work by OSHA to put the new protections in place and enforce them properly.

The need for action, however, is clearly urgent. There have been more than 50 explosions or fires due to combustible dust since 2007. Fifteen people have been killed in those incidents and 127 injured.

Source: "Combustible Dust Bill Re-Introduced in House," Woodworking Network, Rich Christianson, 2-17-13

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post in Pennsylvania. To learn more about our practice, please visit our workplace injuries page.

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