Combustible Dust Explosions and Compliance – Especially For Food Processors


I have linked to an Interview by the good folks at, an excellent publication and provider, especially for food processors and related businesses. 

We represented construction employers at the 2008 Port Wentworth Sugar Plant (Imperial Sugar) explosion and both before and since that explosion, we have handled many combustible dust matters in food processing, wood and paper, coal products, plastics, foundries and for numerous other manufacturers.   Combustible Dust compliance remains one of the most understood and most dangerous of safety compliance areas.  For more information on the Imperial Sugar explosion, which remains highly instructional, go to the Savannah Daily News archived special coverage.

Safety Scene: Industrial Explosions
Fri, 05/10/2013 – 9:16am
Krystal Gabert, Editor

Interview with Howard Mavity, Partner, Fisher & Phillips LLP

Chem.Info’s recurring Safety Scene feature focuses on how to improve safety in processing plants. In this installment, we looking at explosion hazards facing processors, what the fallout of an industrial explosion can be and what processors can do to mitigate their risks. We spoke with Howard Mavity of the law firm Fisher & Phillips about industrial safety.

Q: What factors present the greatest threat of explosion within processing plants?

A: First, manufacturers face Industry-specific challenges.

Since the catastrophic Imperial Sugar explosion (where I was on site for the first seven days) most food processors now recognize some potential for combustible dust explosions and “deflagration,” which refers to the catastrophic pressure wave caused by the startled cloud of dust triggered (and ignited) by the initial explosion. However, so many factors are at play that even comparable “baking” facilities may present widely varying amounts of problems, or none at all.

Likewise, “breading” processes and powdered beverages may present significant risks, and properly stored silos of sugar raise little concern. My point is that few safety and production subjects depend more on the specific facts.

One point is clear: almost every food processor which uses or generates small particles should conduct a Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) to determine hazards, and if necessary, solutions.

Second, manufacturers face  operational challenges

An attitude of “we’ve never had a problem before” is a significant problem. Processors would do well to remember that the sugar refinery had gone over 90 years without an event… until one factor changed. Many food processes and equipment have not changed in many years, and combustible dust control was not the manufacturer’s concern when they were developed.

“Management of Change” is my largest concern. Many are aware (please continue reading at Chem.Info site)

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
This entry was posted in civil and criminal exposure, combustible dust, consensus standards, emergency response, food processing, general duty 5(a) citations, manufacturing, OSHA, willful and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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