Employers Still Misunderstand or Underestimate Their Combustible Dust Risks

Those of you who know me well are aware that I have worked with hundreds of plants in their combustible dust compliance efforts and have been involved with a number of explosion/deflagration fatalities, including the catastrophic explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant in Port Wentworth, Georgia.

  • It doesn’t matter that there is not yet a specific general duty standard

Although there is still no general industry combustible dust standard, OSHA has issued hundreds of citations against employers in numerous industries.  More importantly. potentially dangerous conditions do not lat dormant simply because of a lack of an applicable OSHA vertical standard.

  • Do you know if you are affected? Most don’t….

Regardless of your industry, if you have dust collection systems, accumulation of product-related dust, fit into certain NAICS or SIC codes, or have MSDS’s indicating a possibility of explosion or deflagration, you should at least consider whether you may need to address housekeeping, fugitive dust release, or technical compliance issues with a dust collection system.

Every setting seems a bit different, so do not assume that because a similar plant has no issues, neither do you.  Likewise, a history of no problems means little.  five elements are necessary for an event and your modification of a collection system or enclosure of a conveyor to protect food safety may provide a missing element , such as ignition source, oxygen, containment or the correct particle size and mix.

  • One size solution does not fit all and may cost you unnecessary millions.

NFPA standards are the recognized guidance but are not “the law.”  OSHA applies these standards in a fairly prescriptive way during inspections because no compliance officer or expert could conduct an adequate evaluation in the scant six months provided OSHA.  You need one of the experts who are experienced in conducting a Process Hazard analysis (PHA) and determining the most effective, practical and cost-effective way to protect your employees, product and facilities.  Likewise, the legal issues and the often long abatement periods really suggest the need for one of us nerds who handle many combustible dust cases. 

Compliance can involve simple improvements in housekeeping or time-consuming million dollar changes to each plant.  And of course, once you are aware of a potential hazard at one site, how do you address the other sites without appearing negligent or acting willfully?  The abatement and improvement may take more than a year.  It is not a fast process to find the right experts, test, conduct a PHA, select the best contractors, and then make changes which may necessitate plant shutdowns.

I have attached a link to an article by a very fine expert with whom I have worked.  The Article was selected by ASSE as the “best of the best:” http://www.conversiontechnology.com/brochures/SafelyMade_V03N01_CTI.pdf

Remember… there is no such thing as a minor combustible dust explosion and deflagration.

About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
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1 Response to Employers Still Misunderstand or Underestimate Their Combustible Dust Risks

  1. Pingback: I’m Not an Engineer! What Do I Care About Management of Change?! | Howard Mavity

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